Press Release: JEIC Innovators Retreat Stimulates Radical Improvement in Day Schools by Convening Stakeholders of Different Perspectives

CONTACT: Rebecca Weisman:, 301-881-7500

Innovators Retreat Stimulates Radical Improvement in Day Schools by Convening Stakeholders of Different Perspectives


Chevy Chase, MD -- The Jewish Education Innovation Challenge's (JEIC) 2018 Innovators Retreat brought together almost 100 Jewish day school change agents at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on April 25-26, 2018, for robust discussions about how to create more effective Jewish day schools and radically improve students' Judaic studies learning experiences.

Day school educators, philanthropists, academics, policy makers and parents participated in a unique dialogue aimed at "Connecting the Dots," which was the theme for JEIC's 6th annual Innovators Retreat.

"I am proud that we convened a diverse set of educational thinkers and facilitated deep discussions about the topic of what Jewish day schools could and should be," said Rabbi Shmuel Feld, JEIC founding director, about his work to plan the retreat with incoming JEIC Managing Director Sharon Freundel. " We asked people to take risks in these discussions -- especially funders and school professionals -- so we also took a lot of calculated risks in the ways we engaged the group. It's our way of modeling the kind of risk-taking Jewish day schools should do."

The retreat opened with a simulation about a hypothetical educational crisis in a Jewish day school with actual stakeholders --including Rabbi Ed Harwitz of the Weber School, Eli Genaur of the Samis Foundation and Sharon Shaffer Seeman of Prizmah -- role-playing the parts of head of school, donor, influencer, parent and student. Retreat participants debriefed essential take-aways about respectful discourse from the simulation through a facilitated discussion by Dr. Erica Brown of the George Washington University's Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership.

Manette Mayberg, trustee of the Mayberg Foundation which co-funds JEIC, offered a compelling charge in her remarks to participants about the need for day schools to strive for distinction using courage.

"We, the Jewish people, have courage embedded in our core... If we choose to access this courage to become leaders in the education field instead of followers, we will enable our future generations to fulfill their Jewish mission in this world, " said Mayberg.  "This room is filled with special energy, talent and potential. Let us also have the courage to say what needs to be said, to do what needs to be done, and in so doing connect those dots that will bring our intention for great Jewish day schools into reality.”

Arnee Winshall, a philanthropist who co-funds JEIC, shared with attendees the journey she and other day school stakeholders undertook to create the Jewish Community Day School just outside of Boston, MA over two decades ago.  

"We believed that the world is the classroom and that the first step to learning is engagement.  We wanted to demonstrate, role model, and create an environment filled with compassion and empathy," Winshall explained. "We knew--and still know--that the teachers are key to the whole endeavor and that investment in our teachers, enabling and empowering teachers to find their voices and share their passion, would only serve to inspire our children.  We felt compelled to be in a constant pursuit of excellence – to be reflective, honest and transparent – always with a growth mindset and a frame of mind that focused on what we could learn from mistakes and successes. We were aware of how important it was to avoid breathing our own exhaust, and to practice and live the value of humility, anava."

Retreat participants spent the afternoon engaged in discussions about four JEIC School Challenge Grant Projects, which are innovative educational models day schools have been piloting over the past two years.  Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, the first day school to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school for both secular and Judaic studies, shared the curricular components of their IB application and the alignment with the IB philosophy. Other schools that presented cutting-edge pilots included Stars of Israel Academy about their App Smasher project, Fuchs Mizrachi School about their Teacher Torah Collaboratory and Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School on their Jewish Educational Research & Development department.

Participants also engaged in a progressive activity designed by Rabbi Mordechai Rackover to document concrete outcomes for use in their ongoing pursuit of Jewish day school excellence. Participants were guided through reflective exercises over the course of the retreat, culminating in the creation of individualized guides that charted out their values, ideas and action items.   

Dr. Ray Levi, director of the Day School Leadership Training Institute of the The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, indicated the retreat discussions encouraged participants to reframe their thinking.

"The challenge that has come forth from the conference has been how we can create systems that are sufficiently nimble to allow for change and yet engage a sufficient number of voices to make change meaningful." noted Levi.

"Most conferences end when the conference is over. This retreat was a conversation that will extend beyond," said Ruchel Green, JEIC HaKaveret Design Team member.  Green continued, "The retreat was so much more than contextualizing; it was about the actions required afterward to turn each school's values into action."

Photos of JEIC’s 2018 Innovators Retreat are available at and on JEIC's Facebook page

The Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC) is a bold initiative to radically improve the quality of Jewish education in day schools across North America. JEIC brings together educators, funders and consumers to pursue lasting school culture change through innovation, experimentation and collaboration. Initiated in 2012 by the Mayberg Foundation and supported through multiple philanthropic partnerships, JEIC seeks to reignite students’ passion for Jewish learning and improve the way Jewish values, literacy, practice and belief are transferred to the next generation.