Earlier this week, I traveled to Chicago for the Partnership in Excellence in Jewish Education’s (PEJE) Recruitment and Retention Academy (RARA). It may have seemed odd to spend three days focusing on recruitment and retention. You put out a few signs, have an open house and people enroll their children at your school, right? Retention means sending out the contracts, setting a deadline, and waiting for families to re-enroll.

If you thought any of these things, you would be wrong.

While, perhaps, an admissions director might wish that the job of recruiting new students and retaining our families was that simple, he or she knows that it is not. Recruiting a family to a school requires time, patience, and passion. This means identifying the family, talking with them, bringing them to school for a tour, connecting them with others within the school, answering questions and helping to make them feel at home. Similarly, retention is not limited to the time when re-enrollment contracts go out. It needs to be infused in everything that a school does.

PEJE’s Recruitment & Retention Academy focused on digging deep into the issues that make recruitment and retention so complex. Joined by Rachel Gonsenhauser, our Director of Admissions, and Leah Polikoff, co-chair of our recruitment committee, we spent three days looking at what best practices are for recruitment and retention, measured ourselves against them and started planning for our own improvement.

We learned about how to be more data driven. We heard about admissions practices at other schools and consulted with experts in the field. Building a culture of responsiveness is a topic that came up frequently, and being data driven can help drive our ability to do that effectively. While the Measuring Success survey distributed a few weeks ago may be closed, we still want to hear about your experiences in the school. I encourage you to provide us with your thoughts so we can continue to collect this data.  

We delved into the power of a Jewish day school education and how to share it. For example, here at Schechter, we know that our students are stronger in their General Studies education because of their Jewish Studies, not despite of them. We learned that we need to share this message: Through a Schechter education, our students are globally connected, critical thinkers who are invested in improving the world around them.

Perhaps one of the most important things that we talked about was the power that you, our parents, can have as ambassadors and advocates. Everyone connected with a school can serve in that role. This is a place where we need your help. Have you shared one of our Facebook posts, particularly if you child was in the picture? Have you shared, with your friends, the incredible experience that your children are having at Schechter? Have you passed along the name of a potential student to the admissions office?

The saying goes – it takes a village.  This is particularly true for recruitment and retention as I look back on those three days in Chicago. We’re making great progress as a school and I’m looking forward to putting our learning into action.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Ari Yares

Head of School

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