This essay developed from Lehmann’s keynote address at the 2014 RAVSAK/PARDES Jewish Day School Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. The response was so strong that we chose to feature it in print, with responses, and dedicate an issue to the theme of mission and vision. We thank Rabbi Lehmann and Hebrew College for permission to share his vision in HaYidion.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Mission & Vision
The key to a school's success is the articulation of a strong mission and vision statement and an administration and board that stick to these ideals. Mission and vision differentiate a school from its peers and proclaims the unique value proposition that the school offers. Reconsider the purpose and mission of Jewish day school education from a variety of perspectives. Then, gain advice for composing a mission statement and discover the range of uses that such a statement can serve.
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When I was growing up, “creativity” was usually a category for extra credit. You got an A for following instructions and for getting the “correct” answer. But if your work had a little extra original thought, some artistry or inspiration, that was an added plus to be rewarded, not a requirement. But I have found that in the curriculum of life, creativity is a requirement. Creativity is not just extra glitter, paint or time spent to perfect a project. It is the disposition, intuition and skill set that allows for having meaningful ideas and combining scientific knowledge and artistry to bring them to fruition. Creativity is the gateway to possibilities that only imagination and ingenuity can offer.
Articles in this section illustrate ways that mission statements can play a concrete role in the life of various school stakeholders. Here, Garfinkel describes a new initiative to ensure that her school’s Jewish mission informs the learning in all classrooms.
Pollin, the head of the day school in New Orleans, offers a model of how a complex, dynamic system that often confronts disruptive forces, such as a day school, can garner its stakeholders and resources for innovative change.
What is the mission and vision for a Jewish day school that can unite a population with a wide variety of Jewish beliefs, affiliations and practices? This article provides perspective by describing how this challenge has played out at an intentionally pluralistic school in Israel.
Finding just the right words that convey what makes your school special and unique, different from other schools while similar enough to have broad appeal, is a tall order. Levi offers suggestions for this essential work.
A seasoned consultant to Jewish nonprofits, Leventhal draws on his extensive experience to offer guidance to schools on the procedures and successful practices of writing mission and vision statements.
It’s no secret that these are challenging times for many day schools. Keeping the seats filled, dealing with growing needs for financial assistance, incorporating new pedagogical approaches and technologies, recruiting and retaining talented teachers, satisfying parental desires for the highest quality general education while staying true to a Jewish mission—all these are now part of the daily work and worries of day school leaders, volunteer and professional.
The world of Jewish education has been thinking about “the vision thing” for a decade or more. Of course, that phrase reminds us that the concern for vision has a long history. Back in 1987, then-Vice President Bush was criticized for lacking a vision at the outset of his presidential campaign. His unscripted and exasperated use of that memorable phrase—“the vision thing”—at once affirmed the importance of vision while also betraying some confusion as to what the critique was all about.
Lehmann makes many compelling points in his inspiring and richly ideational piece, but I would like to offer a response to some of his core underpinnings.
Lehmann argues that pluralism, which he defines as “the intersection and interaction of ideas, practices and values within our schools, Jewish community and American society,” is a conceptual category that may help Jewish day schools make a compelling case to prospective parents. He adduces an additional rationale for pluralism, beyond the pragmatic goal of increasing enrollment, namely that it will “help our students live with complexity, contradiction and ambiguity,” seemingly implying that its effectiveness as a marketing strategy is insufficient in itself to justify its use. I agree. In this response, I will argue that pluralism is an appropriate educational approach at the high school level, but not in elementary school. In addition, I will propose a stronger defense of pluralism as an approach to knowledge than Lehmann does.
Lehmann’s call for creativity as a central goal of Jewish day schools is in line with current educational trends. Creativity is frequently listed as one of the core capacities we need to develop in our children so they are prepared to enter the workforce many years later. Some might contend that the demand for creativity, and the accompanying innovative thinking, flies in the face of our passionate and deep commitment to the values espoused in our ancient texts. However, I would concur with Lehmann that we are blessed with a long tradition of our people creatively reinterpreting our holy texts for their time. At JCDS, Boston’s intentionally pluralistic K-8 community day school, we believe that it is our responsibility to encourage our children to add their voices to this conversation so that one day they might contribute their own original insights to this tradition. In practice, this means our students need to believe, as we do, that these texts are part of our sacred corpus and that they remain relevant for our time, and thus are worthy of careful study.
I presumed from its title that Rabbi Daniel Lehmann’s essay would offer new and persuasive ways to frame (market?) day school education to a wider Jewish audience—to the population we may call “Pew’s Jews.” But as I read—and reread—this thoughtful and thought-provoking essay, I quickly saw that it was less an advocacy brief for what most day schools currently offer than a clarion call for our day schools to radically reimagine what they do and offer students and families, in the hope of connecting to “the needs and aspirations of this generation of Jews.” But as with any re-visioning, we have the responsibility to inspect its arguments and weigh its costs vs. its benefits in order to appreciate what this bold reshaping involves.
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