(Courtesy of Torah Educators Network) Representatives of 35 Jewish day schools from across North America gathered together in Boca Raton on February 5-6 as part of the first-ever Executive Directors Conference. The dozens of executive directors and heads of school came together to discuss best practices and share innovative ideas to tackle challenges that they all face.
The conference was organized by the Torah Educators Network (TEN), a newly formed organization that serves Jewish educators from coast to coast in ways that their schools cannot do independently.
According to TEN Executive Director Rabbi Perry Tirschwell, yeshiva day and high schools are often in competition with similar schools in their market. Each school purchases computer programs, budgets, creates benefit programs, sets salaries, purchases insurance, provides security, evaluates financial aid requests, and collects tuition on its own. Tirschwell noted that until now, there has not been a venue for them to compare notes and share best practices.
Extensive discussions at the conference regarding tuition affordability efforts nationwide included presentations by Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, which has actually frozen or reduced tuition for five consecutive years; Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva on high school’s middle income affordability, and Kohelet Yeshiva on its tiered tuition plan, which is based on adjusted gross income.
The best practices in facilities design and maintenance session featured a tour of the beautiful 80,000-square-foot Katz Yeshiva High School of South Florida Campus, which was completed this past summer.
The conference participants learned that employee benefits at schools vary greatly. Benefits are a significant line item in every organization’s budget and are an important factor in attracting the best and brightest teachers, particularly in today’s tight labor market. A number of creative ideas were shared at the conference that maintain the balance between these two factors.
According to Tirschwell, the schools are essentially united in their dissatisfaction with the myriad of computer programs that their schools must use for academic records, tuition, financial aid, email, mass texting, parent-teacher conferences, learning management systems, fundraising, alumni, website, and smartphone app. Changes in enrollment have to be made on each, and many of the programs are not user friendly. An encouraging and enlightening discussion was had about creating a viable alternative.
The conference also featured a critical session focusing on school safety and security. Thanks to the efforts of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center (who was a sponsor of the conference) and others, schools have been receiving an increasing number of federal and state dollars to enhance their security. The focus of this session was sharing best security practices and examining the most effective ways to spend those dollars.
“The program was full and productive and there were so many great takeaways,” said Erik Kessler, Executive Director of the Moriah School in Englewood. “It was so useful to be together and make so many new contacts.”
“Schools and shuls often work in silos. You teach the children of our congregants, and we can help,” said Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, spiritual leader of the Boca Raton Synagogue and a national thought leader, who encouraged the schools to partner with their local pulpit rabbis.
The following schools participated in the Torah Educators Network’s inaugural Executive Directors Conference:
Ben Porat Yosef (NJ), Hebrew Academy (Margate, FL), Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (NY), Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (NY), Hillel Torah (IL), Kushner (NJ), Katz Hillel Day School (FL), Katz Yeshiva (FL), Kohelet Yeshiva (PA), Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls (NJ), Magen David (NY), Manhattan Day School (NY), Netivot HaTorah Day School (Toronto), Oakland Hebrew Day School (CA), Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva, RASG Hebrew Academy (FL), SAR (NY), Shalhevet (CA), Shulamith (Brooklyn), Moriah School (NJ), Torah Academy of Bergen County (NJ), Torah Academy of Boca Raton (FL), Westchester Day School (NY), Westchester Torah Academy (NY), Yeshiva Beth Yehudah (MI), Yeshiva of South Shore (NY), Yeshiva Tiferes Torah of Boca Raton (FL), Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes (FL), Yeshiva University High Schools (NY), Yeshiva of Flatbush (NY), Yeshivat He’Atid (NJ), and Yeshivat Noam (NJ).