In this article the authors posit that many supplementary schools do, and many more have the potential to, provide a sound and solid Jewish education. They identify the actions that must be taken to improve supplementary Jewish education, and they offer policy recommendations for schools and communities alike to improve the supplementary school system that so many Jewish families rely on.
Their key recommendations for improving Jewish supplementary schools:
· Engage in multi-levered change. Schools are complex institutions and require a series of interventions to turn them around. Too many schools focus on a single area, believing that they can redirect the entire school enterprise by improving the curriculum, or by intensifying professional development, or by forging a strong bond between the synagogue and the school. Each of these is important, but no single one, alone, will improve the school.
· Enlist congregational and community support as the school develops a vision, goals, a Jewish context that works, enrichment programs such as shabbatonim, connections to informal Jewish educational opportunities, and a program of professional development. Congregations and communities must work in concert with their schools and must be patient during the inevitable growing pains, recognizing that school change entails much new learning on the part of many people, as well as time to plan, experiment, and assess. Congregational and communal leaders also have a role to play as supporters of change.
· Spread responsibility. Change and growth is less likely when a single individual bears all responsibility for the school. Shared responsibility also insulates schools from vulnerabilities when there is turnover in personnel, such as the departure of a school head or the lay leader chairing the education committee.
· Hire and develop inspired, knowledgeable teachers. Nothing can substitute for educators who come to school with a strong sense of Jewish mission and easy access to deep content knowledge .
· Engage high school and college students. Older students who serve as teaching assistants and tutors can bring educational strength to programs and show younger students identifiable continuity on the path to becoming Jewish adults.
· Think wisely about using time well. Supplementary school hours are few. Schools need to prioritize carefully and help educators make every moment count. This is not a unique challenge to supplementary schools. Even in Day Schools time is a precious commodity. We have visited supplementary schools that provide more time on task for Hebrew Language instruction, prayer and Torah than in some Day schools we have visited!
· Keep information flowing. Schools should hold frequent staff meetings, make room for staff development time, and collaborate on planning and programming. They should forge educational linkages with the congregation and community; and among early childhood programs, camping, youth work, community programs and adult education.
The real work of building an effective supplementary school is not to actualize specific aspirations – better curriculum, improved teaching, wider and deeper programming, holistic governance – but to hold all of these, together, in balance. No single one of these approaches will, alone, yield change. It is the combination of these traits that forges a strong school. If we accept that a critical mass of families wants to choose supplementary schools for their children, we believe that, with applied commitment, it is eminently possible to deliver the excellent Jewish education that their children deserve.