The challenge for U.S. Jewish day schools is to succeed even as tuition sticker shock is an ongoing reality for families. But there was a spirit of passion, commitment and can-do optimism among the 1,100 attendees in Atlanta this week at the second biennial conference of Prizmah, the center for Jewish day schools.
The theme was “Dare To Dream” and the participants had numerous opportunities during the three-day meeting to network, share successes and failures, and collaborate on potential projects that encompass innovative learning as well as fundraising strategies. While motivational keynoters emphasized the need to embrace change and focus on optimism and empathy, the educators seemed to most enjoy the opportunity to learn from each other.
Prizmah was launched in 2016 as a unique merger of five leading day-school organizations representing different religious streams. Its goal is to serve day schools across the spectrum. It recently launched a Knowledge Center, an online resource that includes data collection and the sharing of learning from the field. The center is an element of the organization’s new four-part strategic plan to: help schools attract highly talented educators; catalyze resources for funding; accelerate innovation and experimentation in the classroom; and create a network of learning.
Recent trends around the country show that day schools in smaller communities are struggling the most and some have closed, as have a number of Solomon Schechter schools. Orthodox schools, the majority of U.S. Jewish day schools, are holding steady and thriving in some cases. The number of blended learning schools, which offer reduced tuition and emphasize online learning, is increasing. And more schools are looking to philanthropy to keep afloat.
An emotional highlight of the conference was a tribute to the Avi Chai Foundation for the vital role it has played in countless ways by providing $350 million to day schools in its 35 years. Avi Chai plans to “sunset” (close) at the end of this year.
Overall, day school graduates continue to play a disproportionately significant role in Jewish leadership positions in the community, an indication that the “quality quotient” of a day school education is immeasurable.