The Covenant Grants

NESS: Nurturing Excellence in Synagogue Schools II

Organization: Jewish Learning Venture, Melrose Park, Pennsylvania

Grant Year: 2006

Project Director: Fredi Cooper

Type of Grant: Signature

Grant Amount: $100,000 (4 years)


After School Programs
Professional Development

To expand the NESS pilot program to a cohort of five new schools. The goal of NESS is to foster excellence in synagogue schools so as to increase the retention rate of students in synagogue schools, enhance the Jewish identity of students and their families, and increase the connection to the Jewish community post B’nai Mitzvah.

NESS is premised on a systemic approach that seeks to transform education by engaging the entire congregation in a change process. The program is a three-year whole school intervention, custom-designed to meet the needs of each synagogue school. The initiative was a collaboration between the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, FOUNDATIONS, Inc., and the Penn Literacy Network of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. The program combined assessment of a school’s assets and limitations through a standardized instrument (Jewish School Assessment School Improvement Process), teacher and mentor training through the Penn Literacy Network (PLN), and leadership training for school directors. Participants learned innovative teaching strategies amd meaningful Jewish content and how to integrate them. NESS also included opportunities for teachers to practice these strategies and skills under the supervision of specially trained mentors. Lay leaders were trained along with professionals.

The NESS program was structured as to have an impact beyond the Philadelphia Jewish community. An advisory committee of top Jewish educational leaders from across the country was formed, which connected the program to the denominational organizations, JESNA, some leading philanthropists, and local Philadelphia Jewish
leadership. Training materials were collected to enable other communities to build upon the work of the NESS initiative.

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