Thirty-eight congregational school educators are currently expanding their knowledge and building a new vision for school leadership as fellows in the second cohort of the Leadership Institute for Congregational School Educators (LICSE). The trans-denominational program is jointly sponsored by The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
Created four years ago with $1.8 million of support from UJA-Federation of New York, the program received an additional $1.9 million from UJA-Federation in 2007. Designed to enhance the professional leadership skills of congregation school educators from the New York metropolitan area, the program is guided by the vision of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of JTS and the New York School of Education at HUC-JIR. Leadership, pedagogy, and Judaica, the "three pillars" of the program, serve as the organizing principles.
According to Dr. Evie Rotstein, project director, "Congregational school educators are Jewish professionals who are important role models for the Jewish community. The Leadership Institute is an opportunity for educators to raise the bar for leading significant change in the congregational school, and to create Jewish learning that is meaningful and integrated into the lives of the students and their families. We are so grateful to UJA-Federation for their commitment to congregational school education and positioning school principals to serve as agents of positive change and innovation within their congregations."
Dr. Barry Holtz, dean of The Davidson School, stated: "This program reflects our commitment at The Davidson School to the ongoing importance of congregational education in the life of the American Jewish community. It is still true that most of our children get their Jewish education in the context of congregational schools; if we cannot develop the next cadre of exciting and visionary leadership for these schools, we will be shortchanging our kids and their families. The LISCE program is a serious and profound effort to upgrade the quality of educational leadership in the contemporary congregational school."
Over a two-and-a-half-year period, LISCE fellows participate in two ten-day intensive summer seminars, eleven one- or two-day symposia, and a ten-day Israel seminar. An integral part of the program is the mentor-mentee relationship, with each fellow guided and supervised by a veteran educator.
The LISCE process includes serious individualized study. Based on the area of growth and learning, fellows and their mentors determine an area of learning that will be most beneficial to their practice. Some of the fellows are learning Bible, which is being taught by Dr. Amy Kalmanofsky, assistant professor of Bible at JTS. Others are learning about organizational development with Deborah Howard, a transformative change facilitator.
Additional study groups include an in-depth exploration of tefillah and how to translate prayer into a meaningful experience for their students. These groups are being facilitated by Cantor Ellen Dreskin and Dr. Deborah Miller, associate director of the Melton Research Center for Jewish Education and an adjunct assistant professor in The Davidson School.
Lesley Hoffman is a graduate of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies at JTS and The Davidson School. Currently the principal of the Jackson Religious School at Sutton Place Synagogue in New York City, she has high praise for the program. "LISCE has completely exceeded my expectations. The community of colleagues who understand the field and especially the particular challenges of the field in the New York region, the mentoring, people like Evie, always leave me feeling inspired and ready to face the next day."
To qualify for the program, educators must have a minimum of two years of experience leading a congregational school and have the support of their congregation's leadership. Most importantly, said Dr. Rotstein, is the applicant's willingness to learn and be open to growth and change.
Director of the religious school at the Conservative Synagogue in Westport, Connecticut, Danny Kohavi was motivated to apply for the program because "as an educational leader, I am always looking for the newest information and increasing Judaic content in my school. We need to stay current with our students in the twenty-first century.” Kohavi, who also graduated from The Davidson School, meets bimonthly with his mentor, with whom he discusses congregational issues, leadership, and curriculum development.
Mentor Shanee Epstein, who has been a Jewish educator for twenty-five years, is the educational director at Town and Village Synagogue in New York City. "My goal as a mentor," she explains, "is to help other Jewish educators grow as leaders in their community. I meet with each of my fellows twice a month. Together, we work on areas we have jointly identified as needing to be strengthened. And, by listening and helping other educators, you grow yourself."
Information regarding the LISCE program is available by contacting Dr. Rotstein at (212) 824-2248. For information regarding The Davidson School, contact Dr. Ofra Backenroth, assistant dean, at (212) 678-8812.