JData in Action: Community Foundation for Jewish Education
Rabbi Scott Aaron contributes the fourth in an ongoing “JData in Action” series highlighting how JData is being put to good use by our stakeholders.
Chicago’s Jewish community is tightly knit for a city of its size. Even at over a quarter-million members we tend to know a lot about each other. That, however, has not been the case in terms of Jewish education. Until this past year, little information beyond budget and student demographics was regularly and systemically collected and analyzed by central agencies or the federation. As a result, many of our working assumptions regarding curriculum, teacher training, resource allocation priorities, student retention, and the like were based on anecdote. Thanks to a generous grant from the Crown family, the Community Foundation for Jewish Education (CFJE) of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF) began to utilize JData to gather critical information about our Jewish education programs. We began with congregational education in 2014–15 and are expanding to early childhood programs and day schools in 2015–16.
Our goals are twofold. First, we need hard data to adequately plan, fundraise, and support Jewish education. Anecdotal evidence is simply not reliable for making strategic decisions that benefit our diverse systems of Jewish education. Second, the data give educators, funders, and other stakeholders a common and transparent baseline of information. For example, JUF is convening congregational school educators by geographic region to examine the data collectively as institutions serving families in overlapping zip codes and school districts. By giving everyone access to select information (financial data are not shared outside of CFJE), we can highlight common challenges and opportunities. JUF will then be able to marshal communal resources more strategically in order to assist congregational schools in addressing common needs. Current areas of discussion include support for special needs students, shared high school programs, common madrichim training and others. We are also planning a day-long symposium in May 2016 with educators, stakeholders, and outside experts to delve into the findings from Year 2 of our data collection.
JData has provided our federation with an excellent resource. While we hope that JData will develop the capacity to use the data more flexibly in the future, the assistance JData has already delivered to us in our efforts to improve support for Jewish education providers has been well worth the investment.