HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Marketing Community Day Schools to Conservative Jews

by Rabbi Steven M. Brown, EdD Issue: Marketing Across the Spectrum
TOPICS : Technology

I wish I could recommend a magic marketing bullet to attract Conservative Jewish families in a community day school catchment area, but, alas, I cannot.

If there is a Solomon Schechter Day School (Conservative movement) alternative, the marketing will have to be on issues of excellence of academic program and staff, facilities, dedication to Klal Yisrael, and extra curricular activities going head to head with the local Schechter school's programs.

If the community day school is the only game in town, and wishes to attract Conservative Jewish students who would otherwise be attending synagogue schools and public and other private schools, then I would stress excellence in academics, commitment to Jewish living and learning for both children and their families, and the school's openness and desire to make all constituent denominations feel valued and appreciated. One way to do this would be to get the backing of the Conservative rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators in town, inviting them into the school for a deep look around, and then asking them to grant you the right to quote them in your advertising. A well marketed school would invite these Conservative professionals to participate in the school's governance and policy making committees.

Clearly demonstrating that there are opportunities for egalitarian treatment of female students and staff would also enhance the school's image among many Conservative Jewish families. If the school is dominated by either end of the spectrum, i.e. Reform or Orthodox, the marketing will have to reflect other excellences in the school such as extra curricular actives, movement based Shabbatonim or affiliation with movement based youth programs. I'd suggest that Conservative professionals be invited in on a regular basis to have lunch with their congregant students (they should bring desert!), teach a class, or speak to students and parents about a Conservative view of halacha, the teaching of text, or the observance of mitzvot.

In the end, parents most want excellence for their children in all things academic, social, emotional and physical. Conservative Jewish parents are no different. For the very observant Conservative parent, the school's standards of kashrut, birthday party rules, quality of school prayer, level of text study and Hebrew language instruction will be real barometers by which they will measure their desire to enroll their children.

The main body of Conservative Jews seeks excellence in academics and extra curricular activities, and in an ironic way, can be swayed to enroll even if the school is Reform or Orthodox in its dominant outlook. Frankly, with the growing pressure of Federations in North America to reverse the trends of the last fifty years, which promoted denominational schools by insisting on the communization of many denominational schools, the expanding number of community day schools need to think deeply about how to individualize their programming to meet the religious and spiritual needs of diverse Jewish movements in the school. Schools which can turn this type of emphasis on unity in diversity into smart marketing campaigns may be the real winners in the competition for family commitment and tuition dollars.

Rabbi Steven M. Brown, EdD is the Dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Rabbi Brown can be reached at: stbrown@jtsa.edu.

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