Congregation: Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore, Plandome, NY
Education Director: Rabbi Jodie Siff
RSNS formed 46 years ago as a study group for adults who sought intellectual stimulation in a Jewish setting. The school was formed later.
Growth since Rabbi Jodie Siff arrived at RSNS seven years ago:
Since Rabbi Siff arrived at RSNS, she has worked to add structure to the school. She reinvigorated the Education Committee, encouraging it to set policies, including an absenteeism policy. She also instituted a coop in the religious school, in which parents volunteer to help with the running of the school or to teach a small part of a class. RSNS also initiated a Shabbat school program under Rabbi Siff's leadership.
- Increased oversight of teachers: each teacher hands in a lesson plan for each unit, Rabbi Siff observes each teacher twice yearly, she meets with each grade unit twice yearly, there is a faculty meeting monthly and also a staff orientation day.
- The school has made each family accountable for the absences of their child(ren).
- They have instituted a safe and effective car pool system through a co-op model.
They have structured a standing education committee.
Resources that Aid in Growth:
Rabbi Siff relies primarily on her rabbinic colleagues as her support system. She also participated in and now serves as a mentor for the Leadership Institute for Congregational Principals, a two-year professional development program sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College.
Challenges in Growth:
RSNS struggles to grow responsibly. They want to avoid sacrificing the intimacy of the community as their numbers increase. Thus, at times there has been a moratorium on membership, and each grade level currently is capped at 30 children. This grade level cap prevents some people from joining the community because they want their children to enroll in religious school at grade level. However, it also insures that there will be only one bar or bat mitzvah per Shabbat. In preparation for their celebration, each family hosts Rabbi Siff for dinner, compiles a set of English readings and writes a family d'var Torah. Such personalized rituals and attention would be impossible if there were more children in the religious school. However, RSNS also seeks to grow to support the intensive, high-quality programming it offers its membership.