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Strategic Plan 2011-2016

Strategic Plan 2011-2016

BERMAN Strategic Planning Report

Winter 2011


Strategic planning is the process by which an organization determines its future directions, making sure that its goals, central activities and initiatives are well-aligned with its mission and vision and that key decisions like human and financial resources are allocated accordingly. Strategic planning is a long-term process that seeks to answer several questions:

  • What are we doing well that should be sustained?
  • What are we doing less successfully that needs to be re-envisioned?
  • What long-term improvements will enhance our success?

In undertaking the challenge of developing a strategic plan for the school, the Strategic Planning Committee ("SPC" or "Committee") was mindful of the central importance of the school to our stakeholders. Indeed, in many ways day schools have assumed an outsized prominence, becoming a repository for parental and communal expectations that in the past may have been placed upon the synagogue, the home or other institutions within our community.

At the same time, we were ever cognizant of what is, without a doubt, the most central challenge facing not only our school, but the entire day school movement: how to ensure financial sustainability.


In 2009, Dr. Daphna Raskas, the president of Berman, and the Board of Directors recommended that a strategic planning committee be formed to undertake a new strategic plan; the last one was produced 10 years ago. Behnam Dayanim, first vice-president of the school, was tasked with chairing the committee comprised of school stakeholders (past presidents, board members, a faculty representative, parents and non-parents), representing a geographic and demographic range within the school community. The Committee members are headmaster, Dr. Josh Levisohn; president, Dr. Daphna Raskas; Dr. Erica Brown; Lisa Charnoff; Menachem Ely; Diana Epstein; Sue Gorlin; Devorah Grayson; Rene Isser; David Janus; Dr. Michele Klein; Eric Koehler; Larry Stern; Aton Teitelbaum; and Orlee Turitz.

Workstreams were created to focus on different areas of the school:

§ Education and Curriculum

§ Parents, Students & Alumni

§ Faculty, Administration and Staff

§ External Stakeholders

§ Financial Sustainability, and

§ Facilities and Technology

Surveys, interviews and fact-checking were all employed by each of the workstreams to gather data, the first step in the strategic planning process.

For objectivity and expertise, the surveys were designed and the data were analyzed with the assistance of an outside professional consultant, Dr. Meredith Woocher. Dr. Woocher is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning (the "Partnership"). She previously served as the Director of Research and Evaluation for The Covenant Foundation and has conducted numerous independent research, evaluation and planning projects for Jewish organizations including Federations, Central Agencies, synagogues and academic institutions.  The Committee gratefully acknowledges Dr. Woocher and the Partnership for making Dr. Woocher’s time and expertise available to us.

An early element of the planning process involved surveying different school populations to gather information, assess and evaluate trends and gauge satisfaction of Berman community members.

Once the data were collated, the planning committee met periodically over the course of the academic year to share information and to discuss consistent patterns of feedback presented in the data-gathering. This accomplished, the SPC, with the input and support of the headmaster, put forward proposed strategic goals and accompanying recommendations. Those goals and recommendations were presented to the board for approval. On February 15, 2011, the board considered and approved the Strategic Plan reflected in this report, with a directive to the headmaster to begin its implementation and find means to assess and to measure its success.

The Committee expects that this Strategic Plan can serve as a suitable guide to the school’s priorities and efforts for the next five academic years.

This Report

This report is divided into three sections. Since strategic planning begins with a mission statement, this report includes both it and the core values of the school that are expressions of MJBHA’s mission as the first part of the report (I). It is followed by a brief summary of the Committee's findings and the strategic plan itself (II). We end the body of the report in section III with some concluding observations. The Committee also has prepared as an Addendum a more detailed summary of the Committee's fact-finding efforts. The Addendum is available upon request.

I.         Mission Statement and Core Values

Our Mission Statement[1]

Berman Hebrew Academy is an Orthodox Day School that provides a comprehensive Jewish and secular education in an atmosphere of reverence, good citizenship, and love of the Jewish people and Israel.

Adhering to standards of academic excellence and exemplary moral conduct, it prepares its graduates to become Halachically observant, well-educated Jews. It provides opportunities for each student to achieve the maximum of his or her potential, engaged with, and contributing to both the Jewish community and the society at large.

Commitment to Israel

The creation of the State of Israel is one of the seminal events in Jewish history. Recognizing the significance of the State and its national institutions, we seek to instill in our students an attachment to the State of Israel and its people as well as a sense of responsibility for their welfare.

Our Core Values

As a co-educational Modern Orthodox Jewish day school, Berman 's mission stands upon five foundational pillars, each of which contributes to the development of mature, committed, thinking and sensitive young Jews and Americans.

  • תורה-Torah: We strive to provide our students with a firm foundation in Torah and Jewish law, a desire for a meaningful relationship with God, and a love for Jewish learning and practice.
  • חכמה-Chochmah: We encourage our students to excel academically in an atmosphere that encourages curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and integrity.
  • דרך ארץ-Derech Eretz: We emphasize the highest standard of personal conduct and seek to instill in our students a sensitivity towards others in all of their words and actions.
  • ישראל-Yisrael: We cultivate an enduring love of the people of Israel, the land of Israel, and the state of Israel.
  • אחריות-Acharayut: We promote a deep sense of responsibility for ourselves, for each other, for the Jewish community, for America and for people around the world.


II. The Strategic Process

Armed with months of survey and focus group data, the SPC spent months analyzing and collating the material to determine consistent patterns of feedback in the data and to formulate key strategic directions. The Committee then set goals to maintain and to strengthen areas of success and to redress areas of weakness identified in the data. It presents what Berman would look like were these desired objectives to be reached through a list of outcomes. It then recommends initiatives that help us move in the direction of achieving the stated goals. The recommendations do not imply that some level of success has not already been achieved; they are there to provide enhanced focus on key issues and values identified through the data gathering process.

A.        Brief Overview of Findings

Three central themes emerged from the survey findings and data collection:

First, the single most important reason stated for attending Berman is the desire to instill and to foster in our children and young adults a love for Judaism and a strong Jewish identity, emphasizing Torah observance, middot tovot (exemplary character) and a love of Israel.

Second, excellent teaching and well-prepared, professional teachers are the core of the school’s success and on-going, regular and frequent supervision and professional development is critical in attracting and retaining good teachers and creating a standard of academic excellence throughout the school.

Third, the most significant challenge facing the school is ensuring our continued financial viability. This struggle is not unique to our school; it is endemic to the entire day school movement. Absent significant new sources of communal or governmental support - or an entirely new paradigm for education -  the struggle to reconcile affordability with quality will likely continue and intensify at Berman and across the country.

B.   The 2011-2016 Strategic Plan

The Strategic Plan focuses on five key strategic goals: 

  1. Strengthening the Jewish identity of Berman students
  2. Promoting higher educational standards throughout the school
  3. Ensuring financial stability
  4. Imbuing MJBHA students with a sense of their civic and social responsibilities
  5. Enhancing efforts at community outreach

Strategic Goal # 1: Strengthening the Jewish identity of Berman students.

Outcomes that would demonstrate the achievement of this strategic goal:

o Students feel proud of being Jewish and Modern Orthodox and feel spiritually, emotionally and intellectually connected to Judaism and to halakhic observance.

o Students continue Jewish observance and Torah study, of their own volition, post-graduation.

o Students’ behavior reflects the school’s core values of Derech Eretz (respect for others) and Acharayut (responsibility).

o Students understand and appreciate the philosophy of Modern Orthodoxy.

o Students, each to the extent of his or her ability, are conversant in Hebrew as both a tool for Talmud Torah and as the national language of the State of Israel.

o Students feel prepared for life as Jews in a university setting.

    • Students have teachers and administrators who are role models of spirituality and character and develop positive relationships with them.
    • Students are committed to Israel, have an informed approach to Zionism and are able to advocate for Israel.


o Encourage an educational culture that invites and openly addresses student questions on issues of faith and belief.

o Focus on enhancing spirituality, love for Torah observance and connection to our Jewish heritage in all of our divisions. 

o Consistently foster an atmosphere of Derech Eretz and Acharayut throughout the school environment – both inside the classroom and out.

o Institute instruction in Jewish thought – the nature of Modern Orthodoxy and general theological matters – as a formal element of the curriculum.

o Encourage faculty to work in a more interdisciplinary fashion to show integration of Jewish and general studies.

o Provide additional support to encourage teachers to lead Jewish activities outside of the school, whether in their homes or in other locations.

o Inspire close connections to Israel and Zionism through Israel-related curricula, celebrations and activities.

o Ensure that the method of Judaic studies instruction shall be, wherever appropriate, “Ivrit B’Ivrit”.

o Advance Israel advocacy in both the classroom and through extracurricular activities.

o Encourage students to spend a year of learning or community service after graduation in Israel to continue their religious and personal growth.

Strategic Goal #2: Promoting higher educational standards throughout the school in three focused areas: 

  1. Ongoing, quality supervision and professional development
  2. New curricular/programmatic initiatives
  3. Specialized attention to individual learning abilities

A. Outcomes of ongoing, quality supervision and professional development include:

Berman teachers (including department chairs) are supervised consistently and regularly and have written documentation that assesses their successes and challenges.

  • Berman teachers work to benchmarks and are held accountable for student performance.
  • Berman faculty partner with each other to create an effective learning community for teachers.
  • Berman is regarded as a desired destination for teachers locally and nationally.


Headmaster develops and implements a detailed recommendation for increasing and enhancing teacher supervision, training and assessment, including regular in-class visitations of all faculty members, additional support for new teachers, ongoing documentation of teacher progress and performance reviews for all faculty. This recommendation should include professional development for all school administrators and department chairs who will be tasked with responsibility for these functions. 

  • Department chairs are given additional responsibility, time, decision-making capacity and appropriate training to strengthen their respective departments.
  • Berman invests meaningfully in developing and executing coordinated professional development opportunities for faculty both in and out of school.
  • Benchmarks are created to raise the bar on classroom learning and to help mark progress and teacher accountability.
  • Faculty schedules are coordinated to facilitate departmental meetings, peer mentoring, and collaborative class preparation.
  • Competitive teacher compensation is determined through measured and fiscally prudent increases.
  • Faculty recruitment is an ongoing priority. Headmaster evaluates and makes recommendation for facilitating teacher recruitment.

B. Outcomes of new curricular/programmatic initiatives

Our curriculum provides an excellent grounding in those skills and disciplines needed to succeed in college and at Israeli seminaries.

  • Curriculum sequencing (moving developmentally from one level of understanding to the next in a subject) is fully developed to create seamless transitions from grade to grade.
  • Faculty (including but not limited to department chairs) are aware of developments and trends in their respective fields and incorporate them in their curriculum design and teaching.
  • Curricula are reviewed regularly and are modified, developed or designed anew as appropriate.
  • Technology is employed regularly as a tool to enhance learning and communication throughout the school.
  • Continued use of arts integration to enhance learning throughout the curriculum.
  • Students are well prepared for the college and Israeli seminary application process. 


o The school has undertaken a project to “map” the curriculum across the Lower, Middle and Upper School divisions. The project is intended to identify what is being taught in each of our grades. The Committee recommends that the project be completed no later than June 2012 so that it can serve its purpose as the backbone of a transparent, useful and benchmarked curriculum by that time.

o Incorporate an examination of Israel studies and civic responsibilities as part of that project.

o Strengthen ongoing math and writing improvements in LS, MS and US, including:

o Completion of a formal evaluation of Everyday Math by June 2012, with a firm decision to continue to invest in the program or to investigate alternatives.

o Investment in a writing coordinator (or department chair or combination of both) by no later than June 2012 to move the writing improvements forward in all divisions together. 

o Examine US/MS schedule, staffing and curriculum in order to seek ways to enhance the overall academic experience in those divisions.

o Evaluate our preschool curriculum to ensure it remains current with accepted best practices, is meeting educational and developmental expectations and prepares our students for kindergarten.

o Employ an educational technologist or train current staff member for this role.

    • Continue to improve college guidance, beginning with entry into Upper School, with a focus on the “whole student” and on each student’s potential. 


C. Outcomes of specialized attention to individual learning abilities

o Students feel they are in a challenging, exciting learning environment.

o Students learn in an environment which is appropriate to their developmental needs.

o Students with identified learning challenges or strengths who are admitted to our school receive the attention they require to thrive as individuals and as members of the MJBHA student community.


o Create a mechanism for regular student feedback at appropriate ages and grade levels. 

o Make it easier for parents to provide information and helpful recommendations about their child’s learning needs to specific teachers (e.g., creation of web forms).

o Leverage the continuity of a preschool-grade 12 institution to maintain school files regarding learning needs, strengths and challenges for each student, as appropriate, that can follow the student throughout his or her Academy experience.

o Develop a proposal for identifying the full extent of learning support and enrichment that can be provided by the school for its students, as well as more clearly defining an appropriate fee structure for this support and expectations of parental responsibility for students with extra learning needs.

Strategic Goal #3: Financial sustainability.

Berman cannot sacrifice or compromise its goals of providing a quality education for its students. To do so would not only betray our mission and core values, it also would put the school at risk of losing a segment of full paying families and thereby jeopardize the financial health of the school. At the same time, until longer-term communal solutions are at hand, the school must:

·     explore all reasonable avenues of cost-savings in areas that do not affect the quality of learning

·     endeavor to hold tuition increases to levels commensurate with increases in the cost of living and with other comparable institutions.

Outcomes that would demonstrate the achievement of this strategic goal:

o Berman has a sustainable enrollment.

o Berman provides quality education at a price that does not place it out of reach for large segments of the community.

o Berman has a stability of presence: building ownership and ongoing maintenance.


o Direct public relations and marketing efforts more aggressively and in a more coordinated and targeted manner.

o Regularly and proactively solicit parent feedback and opinion.

o Heighten retention rate at transition points from division to division through outreach, social opportunities and active inquiry.

o Collect and analyze written information gathered from exit interviews.

o Maintain and enhance the facility.

o Increase participation of alumni in development efforts.

o Expand the base of donors, at all levels, and deepen the culture of giving to the school among our parent body and the broader Jewish community.

o Create a Special Committee for Financial Sustainability:

§ to consider additional revenue streams;

§ to strengthen development efforts, including through the identification and recruitment of new donors;

§ to find new ways to use the building to generate revenue;

§ to mobilize partnerships with local agencies;

§ to identify community endowments and government initiatives;

§ to assess the feasibility of “benchmarking” costs and identifying best practices for allocations of resources and, if feasible, doing so;

§ to assess the viability of cuts in costs through bulk ordering and back-office support with other agencies;

§ to examine busing costs and its associated deficit;

§ to explore additional cost-cutting measures; and

§ to explore efforts aimed at tuition relief outside of traditional financial aid channels.

Strategic Goal #4: Imbuing Berman students with a sense of their civic and social responsibilities

Outcomes that would demonstrate the achievement of this strategic goal:

o Curricular initiatives and learning opportunities exist throughout Berman that focus on social/civic awareness and obligation (family, local, Jewish, American, global).

o Students understand that civic responsibilities are an expression of their Judaism.

o Students participate in chesed and tikkun olam projects in the school, in the broader Jewish community and in the Greater Washington area that benefit both the Jewish community and the community at large.

o Students appreciate the school’s location in the nation’s capital as a home for advocacy and leadership and take an active role in lobbying on behalf of worthy causes.


o Promote “responsibility” as one of Berman ’s five core values as extensively as possible.

o Enhance already visible programming on Veteran’s Day and Martin Luther King Day.

o Incorporate citizen advocacy within the curriculum (for example, as part of American History classes).

o Utilize Jewish texts throughout school divisions to support notions of good citizenship.

o Provide more opportunities for hands-on experiences that highlight civic duties.

o Emphasize middot that strengthen sense of community, responsibility and compassion.

o Advance the 36 hour State community service requirement by recommending and providing opportunities to go beyond the confines of the school and the Orthodox community.

Strategic Goal #5: Enhancing efforts at community outreach

Outcomes that demonstrate the achievement of strategic goal:

o Berman enjoys a strong, tight-knit, active and engaged community of parents, alumni and supporters.

o Berman has a broad presence and strong relationships with local Orthodox communities and the Greater Washington Jewish community.

o Berman is supported by community rabbis and lay leaders who vocally endorse and promote the school.

o Berman has a good working relationship with other area day schools and their professionals, the Jewish Federation, area synagogues and partner agencies.

o Berman has a strong and collaborative relationship with local government agencies.

o Berman enjoys a firm grounding, excellent relationships and a visible presence in the Aspen Hill community.

    • The Orthodox community at large regards Berman as the central address for Israel related activities and programs.


o Continue to promote the PTO as an avenue for parent engagement and involvement.

o Use a variety of media (e-mail, website, others) to communicate regularly with parents, alumni and supporters with news that is important and relevant to the recipients.

o Increase school presence in Potomac.

o Continue to engage with local Aspen Hill community groups and take steps to encourage Berman families (both new and existing) to settle in Aspen Hill.

o Promote Beth Joshua through steps designed to emphasize its connection to the school (e.g., joint programming) and to raise its profile in the area.

o Direct preschool recruitment efforts to the surrounding Aspen Hill community.

o Increase school presence in Olney, Shepherd Park, Georgetown and emerging communities.

o Provide financial incentives for teachers – particularly in the Middle and Upper Schools – to run shabbatonim or other programs in Potomac and other areas.

o Engage and partner with local rabbis to help fill unmet student needs and participate and contribute to school events.

o Invite local synagogues and other Jewish and local agencies to utilize board room and other facilities and, where appropriate, co-host or co-sponsor events and activities.

o Invite government officials to school events and to tours of the facility.

o Create an External Relations Committee to advise and assist in developing and maintaining relationships with important external constituencies including the neighboring Aspen Hill community, the Peary Alumni Association, local civic associations, police and fire departments, elected Montgomery County and Maryland government officials, the Federation of Greater Washington, JCRC and the Orthodox Union.

III.      Creating a Culture of Reflection and Fostering Accountability

Although many of the above goals do not lend themselves readily to objective metrics, Berman must identify ways to measure outcomes through rigorous self-evaluations, on-going parent satisfaction and other stakeholder surveys, student and faculty retention and other means.

The Committee has included strategic goals, outcomes and recommendations to help Berman achieve its full potential and become an even stronger, more vibrant institution. Certain strategies that warrant particular emphasis or that are already underway are identified with specific programmatic direction or detail. Others, perforce, are articulated more generally or aspirationally. The Committee emphasizes that it fully expects that the strategies in this plan will be prioritized and implemented (or not) as resources permit. It also appreciates that many of the outcomes and recommendations are already in early stages of implementation. The Committee recommends that the Headmaster identify action items intended to achieve the goals set out in this Strategic Plan and present them to the Board each year, along with a report that details those activities already undertaken. The Committee also directs the Headmaster to identify with specificity in that report any obstacles that prevent realization of recommendations that he views as priorities. The Committee will work with the Headmaster to determine appropriate criteria for measuring progress under the plan, to monitor that progress and to report to the President any concerns that it believes warrant Executive Committee or Board attention.

The Committee further expects that this Strategic Plan can serve as a suitable guide to the school’s priorities and efforts for the next five academic years and recommends that the Board direct the Committee to develop a successor plan at that time.

[1] The SPC was not charged with re-defining the school’s mission. The Committee briefly did consider the possibility of making changes to the mission statement. However, ultimately, the Committee felt that, while the statement might benefit from certain updating and refinement, coupled with the school's articulation of its core values, it continues to reflect the school's essential mission. Moreover, the cumbersome procedural requirements for any change to the statement (set out in the school's bylaws) made such an undertaking impracticable.