In the issue: School Advocacy
Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. Henry David Thoreau
To convince someone to do something is one of the most mysterious activities we may undertake. We’re not talking about brainwashing, about manipulating people to do something they shouldn’t, that is unethical or against their interests. By “school advocacy,” we mean the elusive effort to persuade someone to do something that we believe is of limitless value to them, but that they may not be aware of or believe, yet, that it holds such value. That “something” is, of course, attending a Jewish day school.
As the articles in the issue demonstrate, there is no one key that will open the doors of uncertainty to locate the seed of interest latent in every parent. Advocacy is equal parts science and art. One school may do research into their community, another may invest in a more exciting website, a third develops an appealing radio ad campaign while a fourth invents a new format for parlor meetings. Which school will succeed the most? The one that finds the most direct route to speak to the heart of their prospective parents.
The expression “plant a seed” evokes the magic that admissions professionals and their team attempt to perform. The school seeks to conjure the wonders that await the student who crosses the threshold to spend years immersed in the school’s education and culture. The immediate and long-term benefits appear real and tangible in the parents’ inner eye. They grasp that the school is about so much more than the information their child will learn—as indeed he or she will. They envision their child’s intellectual, spiritual and ethical growth; they delight in the acquisition of a circle of friends and teachers who will stay with them for a lifetime, no matter where each member is found on the globe. They get that to join the school is a form of homecoming, a discovery of a deep sense of belonging to a specific community and a much larger community in space and time.
Then there is the challenge of convincing parents to move past their sticker shock. Perhaps no argument is more persuasive than the observation by Derek Bok, former president of Harvard: “If you think education is expensive—try ignorance.” Bok meant that in the academic sense: Our society relies upon a well-educated citizenry. Science, business, education, military, etc.—all fields depend upon a high level of training and a core of people with expertise. The same is no less true in the Jewish world. Jewish education is expensive; Jewish ignorance has far greater and more pernicious costs. Education has always been the lifeblood of Jewish identity, community, faith, worldview, wit, literature… It is the soil that nourishes and sustains the neshamah of the Jewish people and the creativity and intelligence of individual Jews.
The first section of articles presents strategies and arguments that apply generally to a wide range of schools, and that day schools can adopt for their own advocacy. English explains how day schools can advocate to millennials, who form the majority of parents of school-age children, while Sheridan answers common marketing questions that schools ask. Arcus-Goldberg and Zelkowitz describe the thinking and process that went into the creation of a new kind of school brochure/viewbook. Chiat, Perla and Stratford share learning from extensive research into the views of current and prospective day school parents.
Fox, Kalman and Niderberg marshall both research and anecdote to show how a school that welcomes a diverse range of learners improves the education for all students—important information for prospective families. The next few articles offer advice on particular forms of advocacy: A.Wolf, alumni; Bar-Or, open houses; Slavin, Web. And for a treat, Prizmah’s creative director Von Samek interviews marketing guru Naddaff. While turning the pages, don’t miss the feast of words and images that students from 20 schools submitted in response to the question, What makes your school great?
The school spread in this issue features Success Stories, examples of changes that schools put in place that have made a noticeable difference in recruitment. In the second section of articles, authors discuss strategies and arguments specific to Jewish day schools. Kislowicz draws lessons from the powerful tug that the day school exerts upon the Jewish community of Rome. Leading funder Mayberg offers inspiring lessons for day school advocacy from the mezuzah. M.Wolf conveys ideas for rendering the partnership with federations an effective means to raise the profile of day schools within communities. Heller Stern discusses a program that educates Reform rabbis to become potent day school advocates.
The next two pieces, by Kleinberg and Spiegel, give a point-counterpoint on the issue of recruitment to non-Jewish students. Cashman and Malkus focus on the role that research in Hebrew pedagogy can serve to improve not only classroom practice but advocacy as well. Simhai and Steiner describe a program that turns schools into community programming centers, drawing in families that may not have been aware of or interested in the day school previously. The issue closes with an article by Wiener on the journey, both lonesome and full of fellow travelers, of creating and advocating for a school in formation. Accompanying these articles are reflections by administrators at two rabbinical schools about the value that they see in day schools.
May you enjoy this issue in the relaxation after the end of school, and discover in it seeds to plant in the new year.