National Merger Crosses Day School Divisions

National Merger Crosses Day School Divisions

By Logan C. Ritchie

Local day schools stand to benefit from a new Jewish education collaborative coming together this summer.

Historically, day schools looked to independent organizations to help with fundraising, professional development, recruitment and more. Reform, Conservative and Orthodox schools reached out to networks within their own affiliations for resources. Reform day schools like the Davis Academy in Sandy Springs used one network, while Orthodox day schools like Torah Day School of Atlanta in Toco Hills used another to meet similar needs.

Now NewOrg (a temporary name) is combining five national Jewish nonprofits for a one-stop shop.

The effort was announced in 2014 at a Jewish day school conference in Philadelphia. A major financial backer of these five groups, the AVI CHAI Foundation, reportedly decided the organizations were duplicative.

In discussions for years, AVI CHAI wanted to be more efficient and save money by forming one group to encompass the affinity organizations. AVI CHAI hoped to roll out NewOrg in fall 2014, but the effort took longer than expected. A summer launch is on target.

NewOrg is composed of agencies in Boston and New York, but outposts will be located in every region of the country. It is aiming to cater to 375 Jewish day schools across North America.

Geography plays an important role in NewOrg. Employees will be remotely located in all areas to identify school challenges in each demographic. Current board members sit in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Canada.

Amy Shafron, the head of school at the Davis Academy, wrote: “As the largest Reform Jewish Day School in the country, The Davis Academy looks forward to benefitting from the rising tide of excitement that comes from a shared commitment to educating our youth, while continuing to devote ourselves ever more deeply to the mission and identity that is uniquely Davis and the special feeling of our school. While we are in so many ways very different from other Jewish Day Schools, we look forward to the opportunities that will come from collaboration on a national platform.”

According to NewOrg board member Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, the executive director of the Yeshiva University Institute for University-School Partnership, there are plenty of needs that day schools share.

“The organization will be structured in a similar way to how we set up our schools,” Cohen said. “In your classroom, there are things you do with the whole class and times you need to address individual students.”

NewOrg combines the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools (PARDES), the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), the Schechter Day School Network, RAVSAK (the Jewish Community Day School Network), and the Yeshiva University School Partnership.

Each organization has an area of expertise, but with overlaps. RAVSAK is known to enhance community through coaching and mentorship skills for professional leaders; PEJE also focuses on staff training in addition to financial sustainability and fundraising.

Although some longstanding relationships are ending with this merger, Atlanta-area schools are optimistic.

“There is finally a place where one voice can respond to Jewish education. Before it was a divisive split between us [affiliations] where everyone spoke for themselves. One organization will work together in a much more efficient way,” Atlanta Jewish Academy Head of School Rabbi Pinchos Hecht said.

“We are all in the same business. It’s a waste of energy to not have this resource — one organization to train, help and support will be an impactful thing,” he said.

Struggling schools will receive services, Cohen said. A sliding scale will be in effect to address the needs of poorer schools.

“We find donors or fundraise to support schools in financial need. A common conversation we have is, ‘This school is struggling, they called for help, and what will we do?’ People volunteer. Currently I’m just helping a school who cannot afford services. We speak on the phone, and I am helping them to get out of their current struggle. That’s exactly how the organization will help,” she said.

David Abusch-Magder, the head of school at the Epstein School, said: “I hope that, as the field moves forward with the birth of this new day school organization, we will engage with them along similar and expanded lines and that the planned synergy of the combined organization allows for greater resources and support.”

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