Sharing Learnings From the Machar Fellowship to Help Other Jewish Educator Professional Development Programs

– by Aki Yonekawa and Seth Linden

June 26th, 2019

More than two years ago, the Machar Fellowship launched as an opportunity for recent college graduates to gain leadership skills by working at Jewish day schools. Gann Academy, the grantee-partner, designed this leadership development program to engage individuals on the precipice of choosing a career path, to provide them with a strong foundation in their early career years in Jewish education, and ideally to propel them into the future of Jewish organizational leadership.

Comparing the field now to early 2017, there are significantly more professional development programs for those working in Jewish organizations. Machar’s model with three Jewish High Schools— Gann Academy in Boston, Abraham Joshua Heschel High School in Manhattan, and deToledo High School in Los Angeles—hosting six fellows in full-time positions, accepted through a competitive application process, was a unique offering of real-world experience combined with ongoing professional development that included mentorship, reflective practice, training in management and education theory, and retreat intensives. Fellows worked in a variety of capacities, from experiential education and classroom teaching to marketing and admissions.

Like other programs that launched in recent years, Machar was a response to the urgent need to develop talented young leaders. Together, as funder and grantee-partner, we wanted to develop emerging leaders with skills to deliver excellent Jewish education in a variety of settings and to fill a gap in training programs for administrative roles. While we did in fact succeed with this cohort, the program is ending two years earlier than planned and with one cohort rather than two. As we reflect on the pilot program—and recognize the marketplace of PD programs is more crowded than before—we want to share learnings from the successes and mistakes we made along the way, which we believe will help the entire field design and implement new professional development opportunities. These learnings are real and reflect real challenges. Here are some areas of the project that we have reflected on and seem particularly relevant to future grant partners:

Project Management
While Gann Academy demonstrated strong leadership and vision in designing and implementing the Fellowship, there are inherent limitations when one school oversees a program as compared to a national organization doing so. As a grantee-partner, Gann was in a difficult position balancing its roles as fund raiser, grant manager and participating school. On the other hand, one of the great programmatic strengths of the program was precisely the fact that the project was being managed in one of the schools and was therefore able to remain relevant and connected to the individual needs of the individual schools. A common difficulty with cohort programs run by outside organizations is that they feel disconnected from the reality on the ground of the participants working in their fields. The way we established the program made it nearly impossible to bring this to scale across the country, and funder colleagues told us as much. How would Machar look different if an organization like Prizmah or others managed it? What could we learn from the successful rollout of Hillel’s Springboard fellowship?

Stakeholder Conversations
Machar involved the participation of fellows, schools (and their school families and administration), a grantee-partner, and national funder.  All needed to “row the same way.” While the national management model did build dialogue among the stakeholders, more could have been done earlier. If we were to replicate the model, we would recommend more deliberate sharing of MOUs between organizations, and establishment of routines and check-ins to align goals, outcomes, culture, and more. The clearer one can be about roles and responsibilities in a multi-stakeholder collaboration, including frequent follow-up to ensure culture formation and project management across different sites, the better.

Budgeting and Matching Fund Requirements
In hindsight, we—as funder and grantee, together—were optimistic about matching funds.  As local schools, neither Gann Academy nor the other program participants had the resources or reach to raise funds for a national educational program. Perhaps in hindsight, the grantee-partners would have thought more critically about whether to sign up for the matching grant requirements.  Additionally, this fellowship, with full-time competitive salaries and benefits for fellows, was not cheap. This exacerbated the funding problem: since the program was never fully paid for in advance of launching, other funders were hesitant to join without a clear way to scale the program.

Looking back, the Fellowship was a success in that it developed six talented Jewish educators who now have more skills, experiences, and approaches to enable them to be effective leaders in the Jewish education field for years to come. We succeeded in using the Day School setting as a leadership laboratory, to foster Jewish learning and education for young leaders. But we also recognize the limitations of Machar and some questions we pose to ourselves: What was the long-term plan? What was the benefit—or challenge—of creating a new position in these schools? How do you manage different goals (both short-term and long-term) of the school-partners? What would Gann Academy, as the grantee, ask for up front if it had to do it all over again? Would Gann Academy do it all over again, or would Gann encourage a national organization to do it? Some of these questions will be illuminated in the evaluation report, by GRG in August of 2019.  We look forward to sharing those results.

We also think about how the field of Jewish education has evolved over the last two years, with a much stronger recognition of the need for and importance of meaningful professional development. Machar benefited from the popularity of PD as the program launched. Machar also was challenged by a more crowded field in this space. Thankfully, while the Machar fellowship will cease, the opportunities out there for early career professionals (including those from Foundation for Jewish Camp, Avodah, JDC, and others) is stronger than ever.

In the end, we hope Machar was impactful not only for the fellows and schools, but for the broader field of Jewish educators. We hope our learnings shared here prove to be a useful resource and learning opportunity for funders, nonprofits and emerging professionals who are committed to developing more excellent Jewish educators and leaders.

Aki Yonekawa is the Machar Fellowship National Manager. Seth Linden was a Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation for 3.5 years. He is now a philanthropy consultant focusing on board culture and governance, leadership and talent development, and designing and facilitating learning retreats.