Leadership Perspectives on the Financial Sustainability of Non-Orthodox Jewish Day Schools in Toronto


Source: Journal of Jewish Education


The purpose of this study was to better understand how Jewish day school leaders in Toronto perceive non-Orthodox Jewish day school financial sustainability. This multisite case study used a questionnaire, completed by 23 leaders of non-Orthodox Jewish day schools, and one-on-one interviews with all eight heads of school of the non-Orthodox Jewish day schools in Toronto to collect data.

The purpose of this study was to determine the degree to which Jewish day school leaders have an impact on the sustainability of Jewish day schools and if their sustainability efforts are a leadership priority. The study illuminated the degree to which Jewish day school leaders are aware of the many sustainability strategies available to them (strategies identified through this research), as well as the degree to which they were focused on implementing them in their own schools. The study also examined the level at which Jewish school leaders feel they have been effective in their sustainability efforts. Finally, the research helped to identify the key factors and conditions that inhibit and promote the capacity of Jewish school leaders to focus on the sustainability of their schools.
The following research questions guided the study:

RQ1: To what degree do Jewish Day school leaders believe addressing sustainability to be a leadership priority?

RQ2: What are the various approaches to addressing sustainability reported by Jewish Day School leaders?

RQ3: What do leaders of Jewish day schools believe to be the factors and conditions that increase and inhibit their capacity to focus on school sustainability?

Data collection

There were two main phases of data collection: a survey of leaders of non-Orthodox Jewish day schools in Toronto (meaning leaders who play active leadership roles in the non-Orthodox day schools in Toronto, regardless of these leaders’ personal Jewish affiliations) and then one-on-one interviews with all eight heads of non-Orthodox Jewish day schools in Toronto.

The survey was sent out to leaders (heads of school, board members, principals, vice principals, and directors of finance) of the eight non-Orthodox Jewish day school institutions in the Greater Toronto Area.

These individuals were asked to pass on the survey to other school leaders at their respective institutions. The survey took 10–20 minutes to complete. It was open for six weeks, and reminder emails were sent every two weeks. The questions in the survey were constructed to provide data to help answer the guiding research questions of this study. In particular, they captured the sustainability practices and beliefs of the many different leaders of non-Orthodox Jewish schools in Toronto. They asked leaders to indicate the level of importance leaders placed on sustainability and highlight the most common strategies used. Finally, the survey identified gaps in the conversation about this topic in the Jewish day school world of Toronto, which informed the types of questions that were asked in one-on-one follow-up interviews with heads of non-Orthodox Jewish days schools.

List of recommendations for school leaders

The data point to several recommendations for school leaders working on financial sustainability at non-Orthodox Jewish day schools, in particular in the context of Toronto:

  1. Continue working on improving the financial sustainability of your institution. Ensuring financial sustainability is a key component to long-term success; thus it is something school leaders have to continue to work on. 
  2. Involve midlevel administrators. They are already thinking about the issue, and involving them will provide more people to tackle the many tasks within financial sustainability implementation. Additionally, giving them more responsibility around this issue could make it easier for the heads of school to fulfill their many other expectations. 
  3. Don’t go at it alone. Financial sustainability is in need of an adaptive solution. Adaptive solutions can best be found when working collaboratively. 
  4. Solve the issue through a systems-based approach. Financial sustainability is very complex and can only be understood on the systemic level. 
  5. Focus on more value and commitment strategies to get more people to consider Jewish day school. In particular, leaders are encouraged to make the value proposition explicit in marketing and admission strategies. 
  6. Establish a community endowment. They are good long-term investments that allow for money to be used by the institutions well into the future, they can help with attrition, they can help lead to further fundraising, and they can serve to support the whole community and not just individual schools.
  7. Establish clear and weighted criteria to help you determine success of sustainability strategies. This will help leaders decide which strategies will be optimal for their schools and communities. 
  8. The board is encouraged to ask the head of school what changes to his/ her role would result in an increased ability to focus efforts towards the long-term financial sustainability of the school.
Updated: May. 11, 2021