Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Technology Collaboration Continues

Collaboration. That has been my goal as the Technology Integration Specialist for the three schools I work for here in Boca Raton. But collaboration is not always as simple as we think it can be. It requires work, time, patience, tolerance. Wikipedia defines collaboration as: "a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus."
Collaboration example number 1: Three Jewish Day Schools have come together to help their teachers learn how to integrate technology into the curriculum. That is why they have hired me. This is very simple.
Collaboration example number 2: I was hired to work one-on-one with teachers at the three schools in order to train them how to integrate technology into the curriculum effectively. This is not so simple.
Working with teachers has been the biggest challenge of my job. Without the teachers my goals are not met and my program is unsuccessful. Our collaboration relies on both parties, coming together to share knowledge, learn, implement, and share.
Even though it has been challenging, I have had a few breakthroughs.

Here is what has been going on with the Day School Cost Savings Boca Raton initiative.

After Pesach, the Math department heads from Weinbaum Yeshiva and the Donna Klein met to discuss the use of the SmartBoard. The teacher from WY came to DK to experience first hand the use of the SmartBoard so that she can better understand the use of this tool. Guess what? She loved it and we have already selected a fer teahers from the Math department that will get trained in the use of the SmartBoard.

The Technology Committee for The Hillel Day School of Boca Raton has been meeting for the past three weeks. During our first meeting we discussed the importance of being technologically literate and the meaning of that as well as the importance of educating students to be digitally aware and safe. Our last two meetings have been about identifying the skills we want the students to develop. I have started to put together a document of standards that I will be sharing with my comittee on the next meeting in order to receive any feedback as well as to move on to the next phase of the project which is to build a curriculum for the computer teacher, a curriculum that will be integrated with the regular classroom teachers.

At WYHS I have started a blogging project with a teacher and her class. Each week she will be posting a story or something about what they are learning in class, she teaches Torah She BeAl Pe, and the girls have the option to comment. We just launched this project last week so we are in the beginning phases. The girls have already commented on her first post and posted very insightful comments. The participation on the blog is not mandatory, but they do get extra credit for participating. The idea of the project is to bring the learning outside of class and to continue with the dialogue beyond the classroom walls. The girls were very excited when we introduced the project. Lets just hope the excitment continues! But that is up to how we keep them engaged with the content!

Monday, April 19, 2010

NNJKIDS - a communal approach to funding day school tuition

One of the most significant challenges facing our community today is the issue of Day School affordability. Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing In Day Schools (NNJKIDS) is a crucial first step in a broader long-term initiative to assure access to a high quality dual curriculum and to make day schools affordable for Jewish families in Bergen County, New Jersey. Established in May 2009, the funds collected through NNJKIDS help mitigate tuition increases and provide critical assistance to meet burgeoning scholarship needs which are currently in excess of $7 million dollars. NNJKIDS is a unified effort that includes day schools of all denominations in the Northern New Jersey area. Orthodox and conservative synagogues have joined in launching and promoting this program. To strengthen the synagogue to school affiliation, funds collected from the members of synagogues are allocated to schools in that denomination, unless otherwise indicated by donor. Funds are allocated on a per capita basis, based on the number of preK-8 students in each school residing in Northern New Jersey. Distributions occur quarterly.

Thanks to united community support, over 1,000 people have already contributed to NNJKIDS, and we have distributed over $300,000 to the network of day schools during our first two quarters. These crucial funds have already mitigated tuition increases for the 2010/2011 school year.

NNJKIDS is a project of Jewish Education For Generations (JEFG) – an organization established in 2009 to work across our entire day school network and the broader community to identify and execute solutions to the challenge facing day school parents. At this point, JEFG is the only such integrated, nondenominational network in the United States. Many aspects of this agenda involve partnerships with other organizations such as UJA, YU and Avi Chai Foundation, which see JEFG as a unique platform to drive new ideas and approaches.

Currently, JEFG initiatives include the following:

1. NNJKIDS (Northern NJ Kehillot Investing in Day Schools) - a broad-based community fund for Jewish education that is a foundational element of changing the communal mindset to view education as the responsibility of all - not just of parents. Funds raised through NNJKIDS will be directed toward burgeoning scholarship needs and help mitigate tuition increases. Key elements of the program are as follows:
- Goal of 100% participation
- Individuals sign up for monthly debit from a checking account or credit card
- Suggested minimum is simple - $1 per day, or $30 per month
- Those who can, are encouraged to give more - those who cannot, may give at any level
- Funds are distributed on a per capita basis to area Day Schools each quarter

2. ENDOWMENT SUPER FUND - We have entered into a partnership with UJA NNJ to pursue the creation of a large Endowment Fund that would be directed toward lowering the financial burden of Jewish education. Similar funds are being raised in a number of other communities. If successful, this Endowment would be a game-changer in addressing affordability.

3. BENCHMARKING INITIATIVE - Individual schools continually work to find savings wherever possible while maintaining educational quality. Beyond these efforts, we have collaborated with the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University to benchmark the cost base / revenue drivers of our schools and have identified opportunities for cost savings and revenue generation across the network . This approach is widely utilized in the private sector, but this is the first time it has been applied across an entire network of yeshivot.

The next NNJKIDS quarterly distribution to schools is scheduled to take place in May, 2010. At our one year anniversary, we are excited and encouraged by the support of our community and our partners including Avi Chai Foundation, whose generous grant allows us to pay for the day to day expenses of running NNJKIDS. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We've got the questions. Have you got answers?

We have been continuing our efforts to reach out to our alumni at the MetroWest Jewish day schools. In March we used Survey Monkey to send out surveys to all of the email addresses we had for alumni. Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/ Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School’s survey went first, Hebrew Academy of Morris County was second to release its survey and Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union went last. We sent out an email through Constant Contact letting alumni know about the survey. Each school’s email was branded with their logo. For an example, click here.

The survey touched on aspects of every one of our key areas: Programming, outreach, leadership cultivation, fundraising, communication, recognition and database.

Originally we had hoped to ask for information about three different things: Alumni contact information, alumni programming preferences, and where alumni get their information so that we could make sure we are using our resources to target those same media. Unfortunately, the first draft of the surveys was way too long, so we cut the media portion in favor of a shorter, more manageable survey. A future survey will likely include questions about where alumni get their information and an evaluation of our communications with them.

The schools are in different positions in terms of maintaining contact with their alumni, so the rate of return was different for each, ranging from a 5 percent response rate to a 22 percent response rate. At Hebrew Academy of Morris County, a pre-K through 8th grade school in Randolph, NJ, we identified 17 new alumni from the survey and nine newly found non-grads who left before 5th grade for a total of 26 new alumni. From that list we captured about 20 new/updated email addresses. Our two larger schools -- Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/ Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and Solomon Schechter of Essex and Union -- are still parsing their data.

While we were hoping for more postal and email addresses, we got solid data on what our alumni would like to see from us and how responsive they might be to our messages. Alumni overwhelmingly favored class reunions over school-wide reunions. They were mostly on the younger end; 10 years out of school or less. They are interested in news about their former classmates and news about former teachers. Networking events took third place. Contrary to surveys that indicate millennials are interested in social service projects, our young alumni population did not seem interested in such an event.

So now the fun begins! We will be using the data to plan programs that will engage our alumni and reconnect them with our schools. We will also be enlisting the help of the alumni who were interested in volunteering to plan programs and reach out to their alumni friends and relatives.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Updates from the HJMS Development Committee

The HJMS development committee has been working on various social programs to help the students and families coming from the two schools to get to know each other better.
  • A Friday morning Kabalat Shabbat program which involved grade 5 students from both the HHA and Kehila was successful. All feedback was positive and students got a chance to see what a typical Friday program is at the HJMS.
  • A Shabbat dinner for families of all three schools (HHA/Kehila/HJMS) was planned and executed. Students from each of the schools prepared songs and presentations. The parents were able to spend some time together and get to know each other better.
  • The committee is planning some more social (outside of school) events for the near future for both parents & students. Last night about 20 parents from both schools got together at a local coffee shop to get to know each other and discuss developments.

The following is a snapshot of what has been going on in the new HJMS Dual Track Judaic Studies classes this year since December. (primarily grade 6 as this is the grade that has the new unique dual track pilot curriculum):

  • Chanukah: Both tracks collaborated on a video about Jewish pride that was shown at the Chanukah dinner. The students utilized interviewing and other research and communication skills.
  • Tu Bishvat: Both tracks did an integrated project about conservation in Judaism. Each student developed a wishing tree in which they placed a wish. They could make any wish they wanted; however, they were encouraged to make their wish about integrating conservation into their daily lives. Each student wrote a journal entry about the experience. PowerPoint was used in this project.
  • Purim: All of the students are studying the natural versus the miracle.
  • Passover: The class created their own Hagadah with all commentaries by the students themselves.
  • The Source-based track did a project about the origins of their Jewish name. The students used Multi Media to make their presentations.
  • The Cultural track has been studying Torah and Ethics. They have focused on various mitzvot. The upcoming focus for this track is on self e.g. my own personal connection to God and a healthy self-esteem).
  • In Jewish History, the students have been continuing to study ancient Israeli history. They have been looking at the book of Samuel, and at visuals of life in Israel. They also have been learning about all of the history of the Israel and the modern Jewish State of Israel.