We Teach Something New Every Day

On any given day, USCJ’s education consultants field 20 or more questions or requests for assistance. These deal with everything from identifying best practices to issues of curriculum, programming, professional development, crisis intervention, budgets, enrollment and fundraising. Our goal is to serve each kehillah according to its needs. Here’s a roundup of our major projects and initiatives:

Professional Development: Over the past year USCJ consultants have been invited to a variety of congregations to present workshops on effective educational practice, student-centered education, and issues of curriculum. Most recently Sue Wyner returned from the Moreh l’Morim conference where she led a three-day intensive workshop, “Educational Leadership for Success,” and gathered a group of Conservative educators for a conversation about the challenges of congregational education.

USCJ Ednotes Listserve: More than 683 education directors, rabbis, education chairs and early childhood directors receive this electronic communication focusing on Jewish education. More than 40 Ednotes are sent each year relating to holiday programs, best practices in education and supervision, the newest Jewish educational resources and the latest information from the Conservative Movement. To enroll in Ednotes, contact Sue at wyner@uscj.org.

USCJ New Directors Institute (NDI): From June 18-22, eighteen new educational leaders with less than three years of experience gathered at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center outside of Baltimore for a three-day intensive workshop led by USCJ education consultants Susan Wyner and Wendy Light. At this annual program, participants focus on the issues of congregational education, best practices in educational administration and the supervision of teachers to provide student-centered education. The educators leave with a toolbox of resources and begin a year of coaching with mentor Susan Wyner. Here’s a comment from one 2012 participant:  I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to attend NDI!  I have come home energized and motivated.  Thank you for all of your planning and hard work to provide us with a valuable learning experience!  I look forward to our monthly chats and the opportunity to learn more from my wonderful colleagues. –Robin Hoffman, Congregation B’nai Israel, Tustin, CA. The planning has begun for next summer’s NDI. For more information, contact Susan Wyner at wyner@uscj.org.

At  the 2012 New Directors Institute, 18  new educational leaders with less than 3 years of experience gathered at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center outside of Baltimore for a 3-day intensive workshop led by USCJ education consultants Susan Wyner and Wendy Light.

USCJ Placement Service for Educational Leaders in the Day Schools, Congregational Schools and Early Childhood Programs: From mid-November through mid-June there is a flurry of activity working with our various kehillot and Schechter schools in their search for new educational leaders. Wendy Light publishes a detailed listing of available education positions that is sent electronically each week to over 120 candidates. At the height of the placement season, this list soars to 80 pages. Aided by Maxine Handelman for early childhood and Dr. Elaine Cohen for the day schools, we interact with some 60 schools a week. A Placement Guide for USCJ Congregations is available from Light@uscj.org.

Framework for Excellence Initiative: Advocating for kehillot to meet the Conservative Movement’s highest education standards, the Framework for Excellence recognizes some 100 congregational religious schools. Now in its 13th year, FFE helps to set the academic agenda for many schools and showcases innovative programming and models of integrated education.

Pacific Southwest Education Grant: USCJ received an $18,000 grant from the PELIE Foundation (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education) to bring Web 2.0 educational technology into our institutions and use its free access opportunities to enhance our education programs.

Pacific Southwest Leadership Council: Wendy Light is setting the stage to pilot USCJ’s new education paradigm on the west coast. This Education Think Tank has set additional priorities such as, creating a New Educator’s Toolbox and a USCJ Day of Learning Workshops, as well as supporting the Ramah Service Corp and the development of future teachers and youth workers.

Vision for Conservative Early Childhood Programs: Following publication of  “Vision” in 2009, Maxine Handelman  has worked closely with two schools, using the Vision tool to help them improve and documenting the process through a www.uscjecvision.blogspot.com. Following final school visits, next steps include the further dissemination of the lessons learned through the Documentation Project.

USCJ Early Childhood Schools: From July 2011 to May 2012, Maxine Handelman spoke with 246 USCJ and Schechter early childhood directors. The wealth of knowledge and understanding amassed from these conversations has led to new small learning groups, expanded participation in the EC Directors’ Listserve, improvements to existing service to Conservative early childhood programs and better service in the future.

Early Childhood Listserves:  Over 200 early childhood educators share information and resources on three Listserves offered to the Conservative community. About a dozen directors participate in an EC directors’ web chat every month. To join a Listserve contact Max at Handelman@uscj.org.

Traveling Mitzvah Pals: During the 2011-12 school year, 64 schools participated in this new program. PJ Library donated a book to travel with each of the eight pals, along with a journal and map. A Facebook page allowed schools to post their experiences. A survey affirms that the children in these schools found great joy in sharing their celebrations and daily life with their Mitzvah Pals, and learned a great deal about mitzvot and Jewish living around the country. The program will be expanded to more schools in the coming year.

USCJ Partnership with PJ Library: USCJ partnered with PJ Library in two major initiatives this year: ReadNY! is the result of a grant enabling USCJ to help 35 kehillot in the Metro NY area provide PJ Library subscriptions to their families, along with help from USCJ staffperson Rabbi Cara Rosenthal in  best using this gift. The PJ Rabbi project, in which PJ enrolled USCJ rabbis and early childhood directors across the country in PJ Library. A monthly e-newsletter with contributions from Maxine Handelman provides ideas for using the PJ books to reach out to families with young children in their communities and beyond, and further ways to work with USCJ to engage young families.

Sue Wyner, Wendy Light and Maxine Handelman

Sue Wyner is North American Consultant for Synagogue Education. Wendy Light is  Director of Integrated Education. And  Maxine Handelman is North American Consultant for Early Childhood Education.

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