Seven Keys for Success of Jewish Day School Leaders Unveiled in New Study

September 6, 2016

Leadership in Context: The Conditions for Success of Jewish Day School Leaders

Washington, D.C. ─ Findings from the first part of a groundbreaking three-year study identify the conditions that can support effective educational leadership in Jewish day schools. Commissioned by CASJE (the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) with funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation and The Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation, and led by a research team from American Institutes for Research (AIR), Leadership in Context: The Conditions for Success of Jewish Day School Leaders yields highly valuable and usable information about effective educational leadership generally, and insight into the distinct characteristics of effective Jewish leaders.

According to Mark Schneider, Vice President at AIR and the Principal Investigator, “This research will help school leaders improve their schools by pointing to specific areas in which they can invest their time and resources that lead to higher levels of student success.”

Researchers surveyed day school leaders (Heads of School, division heads and principals) in 304 schools and interviewed 72 such leaders to determine what qualities are perceived to correlate with high levels of satisfaction and retention among teachers, with a positive school climate, and with student outcomes that meet the school’s academic, social-emotional, ethical and religious learning goals. Over the next nine months, CASJE and AIR will release a series of research briefs and blogs to look more deeply at the report’s findings, including the seven conditions necessary for success. These conditions, which support educational leadership, fall within three practice domains—vision, staff, and community:


1. Relations with teachers. A relationship of trust helped leaders build a committed staff united by common understanding of school values and a shared purpose. Findings showed that new leaders were less satisfied with their relations with teachers and scored lower on a scale measuring their vision. This finding is important in light of the survey data showing that 41 percent of the leaders had been in their current position for three or fewer years.

2. Professional development. Leaders felt that participation in professional development on topics related to Judaic studies enabled them to promote the school’s vision for Jewish living and learning. However, only about one fifth of the leaders attended such professional development.


3. Time for instructional leadership. Leaders believed they needed a minimum number of hours per week for observing and mentoring teachers and curriculum development to support teacher growth. However, increased time dedicated to administrative duties and teaching classes reduced time for instructional leadership practices.

4. Autonomy to make decisions. School boards and heads of schools who trusted second-tier leaders with important instructional decision-making enabled them to bring in new initiatives and to veto new programs or approaches. Leaders who were given autonomy to make decisions empowered their teachers to pursue their own ideas and initiatives.


5. Close communications with parents. Schools benefited in many ways from open dialogue between leaders and parents. This especially helped with aligning educational programs with the needs of families.

6. A school leadership team. By sharing leadership responsibilities with a school leadership team, school leaders were better able to dedicate sufficient time to interacting with their constituencies.

7. Collaboration with other organizations. Through joint programs and community support, leaders expanded the course offering and introduced new approaches to support academic learning and student engagement in the Jewish community.


“This report offers a compelling and comprehensive examination of leadership in Jewish day schools,” says Dr. Ellen B. Goldring, the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Education Policy and Leadership, and Chair, Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, who is a member of the CASJE Board of Directors. “We learn not only about how school leaders think about school success, we also gain insights into the in-school processes and conditions needed for success. We also better understand needs of the field to develop and support school leaders. The study provides an important roadmap.”

The study also includes administration of multiple assessment tools that target educational leaders at 50 schools. The tools are administered twice and the school leaders receive feedback that allows them to reflect on their practice and consider changing anything they deem necessary.

“The rich picture painted in the study highlights how leading Jewish schools is not a unique endeavor, yet at the same time there are clear leadership requirements—such as fulfilling a denominational or Jewish pluralistic vision—that in this context are especially important,” says Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of school at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School of Greater Washington D.C., which participated in the research survey, and who is also a member of the CASJE Board of Directors. “This study details those specific conditions, their associated behaviors, and the competencies needed by educators to lead effectively.”

CASJE and AIR will release a series of briefs and blogs over the next nine months that offer further analysis on: Professional Development; Teacher Job satisfaction; School Climate; Data-Driven Decision; Leadership in Small Schools; and What we have learned about leadership in Jewish day schools. Learn more about the Educational Leadership in Jewish Day Schools Study >

Respondents for phase 1 of this research were heads of schools and division heads from Centrist Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Community, Reform, Schechter, Yeshiva, and Immigration/Outreach schools. Phase 2 (the in-depth school study) will conclude at the end of the summer 2017. The study will also produce additional measures, and a validated instrument that builds on prior surveys of student social-emotional learning and school climate while adding items that are specific to Jewish day schools and the professional needs of their leaders.