A year of pandemic pivot

It was one year ago this month that society locked down to protect itself from the then still- unknown dread of Covid-19.  Our communal educational professionals are undoubtedly taking stock of what was gained, lost and learned over this unprecedented year.

Much has already been written about the excellent pandemic pivot by our day schools: quick, substantive and creative. The resulting increase in enrolment throughout most of the system this year was resounding proof of that praiseworthy educational response by our schools to the unforeseen, dangerous Covid disruption.

Articles are now starting to appear asking “Will day schools’ new students stay, post-pandemic?”

One such piece, by Helen Chernikoff, under that very headline, appeared this week on the eJewishPhilanthropy website.

Chernikoff speaks with the recognized educational authorities in the United States to canvas the horizon of enrolment experiences across the Jewish day school world.  She notes that “among non-Orthodox schools, the average increase in enrollment was 4% — a reversal in the long-term decline in day school enrollment.”

This reversal, of course, is to be celebrated. More important however, is the need to enshrine it as the new enrolment starting point for Jewish education going forward.

This is our communal challenge.

Chernikoff concludes by recapping first principles.

“The question, then, comes back to priorities for both families and funders,” said Ariel Lapson, the program officer for experiential Jewish education at the Samis Foundation in Seattle. 

 “It’s about the value proposition. A Jewish school is more than just educating, it’s inspiring, it’s cultivating the Jewish future. It’s a holy mission.”

“If families who hadn’t been part of a Jewish school community now find that they like it, maybe they will pay to stay…Likewise, supporters of Jewish schools will look at the impact and potential of this new group of students, and decide how to respond once the immediate effects of the pandemic have receded,” Lapson said.

“She added that the most effective way to increase enrollment is to help schools cut tuition by a significant percentage, but it’s a very expensive strategy.”

Because it is indeed expensive to increase enrollment by cutting tuition, we must all do our part to create a new enrollment norm. We must try to bring down the tuition but not the expense to the schools or to the young families wishing to enroll their children.

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The article can be found at: https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/will-day-schools-new-students-stay-post-pandemic/

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Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom. 

GAJE, March 5, 2021

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