From Openness to Belonging: The Possibilities of Professional and Lay Leader Partnership
By Head of School Nicole Nash and Board Chair Melissa Kushner
Appeared on the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge Blog on October 25,2023
Like many nonprofits, Jewish day schools rely on both professional staff and lay leadership in order to run. Throughout the lifecycle of schools, the reliance on these groups of individuals changes and evolves. This has been our experience at Hannah Senesh Community Day School, the K-8 progressive Jewish day school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where Melissa Kushner serves as Board Chair and Nicole Nash serves as the Head of School.
Twenty nine years ago, when Senesh was founded, lay leaders and professional staff had to roll up their sleeves to keep the school running. Our founders have shared stories about how, together with teachers, they swept the hallways and served lunches. Today, parents lend their time and professional expertise on more formalized boards and committees. While the roles of professional staff and lay leaders change based on the needs of the school, what remains constant is the need for all parties to work together, in sync, to achieve great outcomes for the entire school community.
Our school values, which guide us in everything that we do, have been a pillar as we navigate this work. Two values in particular have been the bedrock to building strong bonds:
Openness – Elu v’Elu – אלו ואלו
Belonging – Shayachut – שייכות
As an entire community, we challenge ourselves not only to create a culture of openness that understands and welcomes diverse ideas and perspectives, but to go one step beyond that – to create a place of belonging, an institution that honors the dignity and self worth of each person. Ours is a community where everyone is welcomed, understood, and ultimately feels like they belong.