Heads of local Jewish day schools say a new study examining conditions that lead to successful school leadership — and ultimately successful day schools — largely reflects much of their own experience. The report also points to areas for improvement.
“This kind of report does not come out of context. It is providing some data and formal study to what’s been going in the field for many years,” said Josh Levisohn, headmaster of Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville.
The report, “Leadership in context: The conditions for success of Jewish day school leaders,” was led by a team from the American Institutes for Research, and commissioned by the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education with funding from the Avi Chai Foundation and the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation.
CASJE is a community of researchers, practitioners and philanthropic leaders focused on improving research regarding Jewish day school education.
“This research will help school leaders improve their schools by pointing to specific areas in which they can invest their time and resources that lead to higher levels of student success,” said Mark Schneider, vice president at the American Institutes for Research and the principal investigator.
Researchers interviewed 72 people and surveyed 304 schools about qualities perceived to correlate with high levels of teacher satisfaction and retention, a positive school climate and with general student success.
The findings identified “seven conditions necessary for success,” which included administration-teacher relations, professional development, autonomy in making decisions, close communications with parents, a school leadership team and collaboration with other organizations.
The study was welcomed by the heads of area day schools as being one of the first to focus on Jewish education. Its findings did not surprise them.
“They are things that we could have predicted,” said Naomi Reem, head of school at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital. “It sounds pretty realistic and attuned to what we see in the field every day.”
Dan Finkel, head of school at Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, said having empirical research to confirm what most school heads have thought is “important in making sure educational leaders are successful.”
When it came to improvement, the report affirmed what some Jewish day schools face, depending on their size.
“Schools are very complex. … It can’t fall on one person; there has to be a team of people leading the school,” said Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville and a CASJE board member.
This can be difficult for smaller schools where staff is limited.
“Small schools may be at a higher risk for not being sustainable, especially if they are located in isolated Jewish communities,” the report said, noting that it may be difficult for those schools to find qualified teachers.
Malkus also noted that the report said although people in school leadership roles thought professional development was effective and important for them, “at the same time, a small percentage participated in [it].”
Respondents from this first phase of research included Centrist Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, community, Reform, Schechter and yeshiva schools. The findings are part of a three-year study looking into what effective leadership is in Jewish day schools along with how to nurture and sustain it.
“We can use some of their insights to evaluate our own practices,” said Finkel, of the Gesher school. “It enables us to ask some questions about how we’re doing in these areas, survey [parents], interview teachers and learn about this as a faculty.”