New Schools, New Directions: Approaches to Online/Blended Learning


Source: Avi Chai Foundation


The AVI CHAI Foundation developed a funding initiative designed to incubate new low tuition Jewish day schools built on a blended learning model. AVI CHAI’s goal in setting out to do this work was to provide proof points for the model’s viability as well as its potential to influence established schools. This report, an analysis of this effort, focuses on three new schools funded by the foundation. The schools reflect a range of grade levels, affiliations, and educational design models. When selected, all were beginning to put their plans into action. These schools were observed two to three times a year over a three-year period with the pseudonyms Darom, Zafon, and Mizrah.

Darom offered grades 7–12 in a flex model (learning in a brick-and-mortar space with teachers present where online learning provides students with a personalized and fluid schedule). Zafon is an Orthodox elementary school (grades pre-K–4, building to grade 8) with a classroom station-rotation model where students rotate between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Mizrah was an Orthodox secondary school for girls (grades 7–12), which was envisioned as a boutique lab school pulling from different blended learning models centered around the expedition: a year-long, whole school interdisciplinary research project leading to an end-product benefiting society in some way

The report offers lessons learned from the experiences of these schools. These include: 1) the importance and necessity of building in time for planning efforts before the school opens; 2) while finding teachers was easier than anticipated, changing how teachers would teach to fit the blended learning context was still difficult; 3) blending in a dual curriculum day school is doubly challenging; and 4) starting a new school is exhausting and exhilarating — culminating in the fact that, in the risky business of starting new schools, some will need strategies and support for closing down.

As you will read, only one school, Zafon, remains open in 2017. The report tries to posit some reasons for its success, but more importantly, discusses the challenges that Darom and Mizrah faced in becoming sustainable. Their demise had little to do with blended learning, instead showing the risk-averse nature of parents to enroll their high school age children in small new schools. AVI CHAI expected that only some of these schools would succeed, and believes that the field needs both successes and failures to learn from. The report has a robust section on “Lessons Learned,” valuable for those contemplating starting new schools, as well as for established schools and communal leaders.

The heroes of this story are the school leaders, who should be recognized for their dreams and for their valiant efforts to establish schools that would break the mold. They created interesting, active models of learning and engagement. They gave rise to the dream of affordable, high-quality day school education. As a field, we need to continue to support disruption to make progress.

The report closes with some opportunities suggested by these cases, including the potential benefits for special education; containing costs without constraining learning opportunities; and networking school leaders for collective advantage and collegial support.

Updated: Apr. 05, 2017