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Non-Orthodox day schools are no ‘shandah’

 

JDATA, new platform could spark Jewish data revolution

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Brandeis University and the Jim Joseph Foundation are hoping to map the Jewish education system with their ambitious JDATA project.

Brandeis University’s ambitious JDATA project has the power to transform the process of understanding and funding Jewish education. Or it could be an expensive bust.

Funded with $1.5 million from the Jim Joseph Foundation and developed over the past two years, JDATA essentially is a website that allows Jewish educational organizations — in this case day schools, part-time schools, camps, preschools and college campus organizations — to submit organizational information, from financial figures to school censuses. The idea is to create a comprehensive database about the field.

Brandeis is describing it as a gift to the field of Jewish education from Jim Joseph.

The key question: Will the field accept the gift and become active participants?

The platform, which was showcased last week at a learning session at the Brandeis House in New York, allows participating schools, researchers, and other users to sort the information by a number of factors — geography, size of school, types of students, and size of budget. It has been tested in 16 communities over the past year or so.

Supporters say the project has the potential to be transformational and ultimately could save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in social research.

If it works out as planned, the Jewish community will have more than an up-to-date census of the Jewish educational system. Assuming schools provide financial information, the community finally will be able to put a price tag on Jewish education — something that could prove valuable in pitches to philanthropists and making informed communal funding decisions.

“In any other area of social public life, you have a department of education or department of health, or institutions that collect the basic information on what is going on in the sector,” said Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center at Brandeis and the Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at the suburban Boston University. “In our rainbow world of Jewish education, where everybody is a boat that floats or doesn’t on its own bottom, we don’t have the infrastructure to collect even the most basic, simple information about what goes on.”

Much of Saxe’s job is conducting studies about the Jewish community; he says the new platform will make a big difference.

“So much time and effort goes into collecting the basic numbers and into figuring out what is the basic information,” Saxe said. “We think it will increase the efficiency of work and the likelihood we can come to conclusions that have applicability.”

But there are pitfalls — namely, ensuring that the field is, in fact, participating in providing information, and then ensuring the trustworthiness of the data. Simply, if the data aren’t complete or accurate, then the project is worthless.

Brandeis isn’t blind to the issue.

Amy Sales, the associate director of the Cohen Center who is overseeing JDATA, says it is a significant concern. That’s why funders need to press their grantees to participate in the program, she said.

“This is absolutely critical and part of the new thinking as we go back now to places who are already using it,” Sales said.

For example, she said, the Foundation for Jewish Camp has been a driving force behind the effort and presses camps to participate. The camps have been trained in a culture of providing data because the FJC requires it, according to Sales. The trick, she said, will be changing the culture in other sectors.

Sales added that the FJC and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, an umbrella organization for Jewish day schools, are contemplating imposing sanctions on institutions that fail to comply. In San Francisco, she said, preliminary talks are under way with major funders about joining together to create a policy under which foundations would not give funds to schools that do not participate.

The JDATA team also is working on the accuracy component for the project, but for now it will rely on the honesty of organizations and a hands-on approach.

In the short term, Sales said, “We double-check all of the data. We run the data and look for improbable values. If a school that has 100 children but then claims it has 500 in fifth grade, something is wrong. We get on the phone and we call them.”

JTA

This article was adapted from JTA’s philanthropy blog, Fundermentalist.com.

 
 

UJA-NNJ to host national day-school fundraising confab

Raising money for day schools isn’t just a calling; it’s a profession. Six area day school development professionals will be getting a boost next week, as the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education holds a two-day seminar at the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey offices in Paramus.

Entitled “Beyond the Gala,” the seminar wants to help day schools move from a traditional approach of fundraising through an annual dinner journal toward the more strategic methods of cultivating donors used by universities and other major non-profit organizations.

PEJE, which is based in Boston, expects a total of 53 professionals from 44 day schools across the country to attend the seminar, which is aimed at fundraisers with five years or less experience. A second seminar targeting more experienced fundraisers will be held in Westchester in July.

“This is another way our federation is helping to support our day schools,” said Minna Heilpern of the federation’s Jewish Educational Service’s division.

The federation will be unveiling a new strategic plan next month, and one of the four priorities under the plan is “to enhance the affordability and accessibility of Jewish cultural and learning experiences.”

With day schools in Bergen County and elsewhere seeking to make themselves more affordable by increasing fundraising, they need to change their approach to donors, says Jennifer Weinstock, strategy manager at PEJE and coordinator of the conference.

“How can we move the schools to thinking in a more strategic way about their annual campaign? Instead of simply asking people for money, we need to be talking about the values our day schools care about and how to connect to people who share those values. If you’re The Moriah School in Englewood — to take a local example — and one of your values is a deep connection to Israel, there are other donors who share those values.,” she said.

Weinstock said school board members may need to adopt new attitudes toward fundraising.

“If you’re going to be on the board of a day school, you should be supporting the school philanthropically.” she said.

“Another expectation is that all board members carry some financial development portfolios. There are so many roles board members can play, from serving as ambassadors to talking about the school in a positive way at the Shabbat table, and all of these roles are part of development. It’s not just about solicitation,” she said.

According to Heilpern, UJA-NNJ will take advantage of the presence of PEJE leadership to hold a special meeting with its leadership and Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of PEJE. Elkin will share what he has learned from communities across the country about how their federations and day schools collaborate and will lead a discussion about the strategies that might be applicable locally.

 
 
 
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