The Schechter Day School Network (SDSN), a voluntary association of day schools in North America long identified with the Conservative movement, has become independent of its umbrella organization, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judasim (USCJ).
The SDSN received its approval of 501(c)(3) status from the IRS in November 2013, and became an independent nonprofit organization at that time.
“The decision to become independent was the result of a strategic planning process of the Schechter Network board which concluded that an independent network would be better positioned to develop and fund programs and initiatives to positively impact Schechter schools,” Jon Mitzmacher, the executive director of the SDSN, wrote in an email to the Chronicle.
Avi Baran Munro, head of school at Community Day School (CDS) in Squirrel Hill, and a board member of SDSN, said she favored the network disaffiliating from the USCJ.
“I was in favor of it because my experience with Schechter schools overall confirmed that they were less about perpetuating the Conservative movement or particular ideologies and more about inviting all kinds of Jewish students from all kinds of backgrounds to engage seriously with Jewish experiences and Jewish study, while at the same time experiencing a competitive and rigorous private school education,” Munro wrote in an email to the Chronicle.
Both the SDSN and CDS are currently involved in “strategic work aimed at ensuring that the widest diversity of Jewish families can feel that this kind of Jewish day school experience is right for them,” Munro said.
CDS is now in the midst of a three-year “Strategic Outreach and Communications initiative” to determine how the school can be positioned to be “a compelling school for the widest diversity of Pittsburgh’s Jewish families,” Munro said.
The USCJ remains committed to support the SDSN financially and to advocate for day school education, according to Mitzmacher.
“The Schechter Network continues to enjoy a healthy and productive relationship with USCJ and other institutional partners, such as Camp Ramah and USY,” Mitzmacher said. “The Network does not and will not serve to replace or undermine the constructive discussions that individual school boards and administrations engage in to determine the direction and practices of their unique Schechter communities. The Network endorses and supports these discussions.”
Moving beyond identification with the Conservative movement may be an effort to appeal to families holding a broader range of Jewish ideologies.
CDS has been “pluralistic and inclusive for a long time,” said Munro.
“We are certainly always examining what we mean by that and what it can mean,” she continued. “We’ve always welcomed a wide diversity of Jewish families. We have been interested in offering students the deepest experiences with Jewish texts, prayer, text study, while affirming, respecting, and honoring their family’s practice as just right for their family.”
The SDSN’s disaffiliation with the USCJ will have no impact on standards and practices at CDS, according to Munro.
“Our relationship with Schechter has not been one involving dictated standards and practices,” she said. “We’ve had autonomy for as long as I can remember in terms of curricular choices and ritual practices. Changes at CDS have happened and will continue to happen independent of this separation from USCJ.”
The separation between the two entities came with the “blessing” of the USCJ, and coincided with the USCJ’s strategic plan calling for “all education and youth program elements to be strengthened, including an increase in the number of Schechter students and the opening of new schools,” according to Rabbi Jim Rogozen, chief learning officer for the USCJ, in an email to the Chronicle.
“The Schechter Network, conducting its own strategic plan, realized that access to funders would be increased if it arranged for its own independent tax status,” Rogozen said. “The evolving plans of the Network were shared with USCJ on a regular basis, and the USCJ gave its blessing to the Network’s plans. As of today, the Schechter Network is still located in the USCJ building, with plans to remain there. There is ongoing, collaborative work between the Network and the [USCJ’s] Learning Department, USY and the Development Department.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)