The PEJE Leadership Line, a free, hour-long (give or take) phone or Skype call with a coach, has been an efficient and effective way for Jewish day school leaders to get helpful, actionable advice on a variety of concerns and challenges. With PEJE’s increased focus on financial sustainability and with more avenues available by which schools can access such coaching, we are retiring the PEJE Leadership Line. However, before the line is closed, we want to honor the service and the people who made it work.
At our founding in 1997, PEJE was first dedicated to the creation of Jewish day schools. Today, we are the leading provider of programs, knowledge, and resources designed to help Jewish day schools operate more effectively, perform more successfully, and sustain themselves financially. While maintaining a lean organizational structure, we have always been committed to being responsive to any need or request that any Jewish day school presented.
According to Sharon Haselkorn, our Vice President of Endowment, Coaching and Curriculum, “About 10 or 12 years ago, we were getting many calls, which usually came to our executive director, with questions about governance, starting a new school, financial challenges, and other very strategic issues. We realized it would be helpful to have a dedicated line for day school professionals and volunteer leaders who wanted more help.”
Enter Shulamith Elster
That was the start of the PEJE Leadership Line, a valuable service that has enjoyed a very high satisfaction rate over the years. In one user survey, 89% of respondents said they were highly likely to recommend the Leadership Line to their colleagues.
Staffing the line has been the job of Shulamith Elster, a lifelong educator with an Ed.D. from George Washington University and an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Prior to assuming her role as a PEJE consultant and coach, Shulamith served the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD, for 25 years, including as its headmaster. She was the Chief Education Officer of the Commission of Jewish Education in North America.
“A decade ago, few PEJE staff had professional Jewish day school experience,” she says. “Josh Elkin, the founding Executive Director of PEJE, asked if I would be interested in doing the PEJE Leadership Line. It seemed a natural extension of the work I had been doing, so I said yes.” Shulamith’s breadth of experience and dedication to Jewish day school education made her a logical choice. She has kept schools coming back for more over the years and received many letters of personal gratitude from those she has counseled.
Fielding calls, making a difference
In its first year, the Leadership Line received 100 calls, and the numbers grew steadily over the first few years. Callers have included heads of school, board chairs, and development and admission officers. According to Shulamith, the types of calls received on the Leadership Line haven’t changed a lot over time – the most common issues include looking for a new head of school or a new chair of the board, reconfiguring the board, and other governance-related matters.
“When staffing the Leadership Line, I’ve often had the Butterball Turkey Hotline in mind,” Shulamith says with her typical disarming charm. “My focus has been what I can do to address the immediate presenting problem, as well the longer term. Because when people call, there’s usually an immediate solution they need help with, but that solution also has an effect on the future direction of the school.”
From the outset, PEJE has been committed to using outside experts to provide coaching. The PEJE Leadership Line was, therefore, a service that brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to Jewish day schools. It was about establishing best practices and making schools aware of resources rather than promoting a PEJE-specific agenda.
“Increasingly, PEJE has become focused on helping schools in the area of financial sustainability: tuition revenue and raising philanthropic dollars,” Sharon says. “More of the calls we’ve gotten are in those areas, which are, of course, extremely important, and we want people to continue to come to us with those kinds of questions.”
As we are ending the line in its current form, Sharon notes, “We are working with a consortium of four other national day school organizations to determine the best and most effective model to serve the Jewish day school field, so the Leadership Line, or something very much like it, could be reintroduced in the future.”
As Shulamith heads toward a well-deserved retirement, consider the scope of objectives she helped fulfill for callers to the Leadership Line:
- Expand horizons and extend influence
- Motivate individual performance
- Encourage deeper connections
- Stimulate dialogue
- Assess strengths and identify potential
- Boost morale and increase participation
- Raise consciousness and create successful outcomes
- Focus attention on critical issues
- Support the leadership agenda
- Raise questions that lead to answers
Whatever the future may hold, it is clear that the Leadership Line has been an extremely valuable and effective resource for Jewish day school leaders all across the country.