Home February 2012 Leader in the Field

Leader in the Field

The Merage Jewish Community Center has been awarded a $20,000 Ignition grant by the Covenant Foundation to create the Paradigm Project for Early Childhood Jewish Education Leadership.  The Paradigm Project will expand and multiply the pool of promising young leaders in the field of Jewish early childhood education.  Peter Blair, the Merage JCC’s director of Early Childhood Education, has gone through Covenant Fellowship leadership training and wrote the grant to create a local “Community of Practice” composed of leaders and potential leaders (directors, leadership team members, administrators, teachers or auxiliary faculty members) of local Jewish early childhood programs.  Three communities have been selected to participate in the 2012 project: Southern California, Greater Miami and Boston.
In announcing the award, Dan Bernstein, president and CEO of the Merage JCC, said, “Our goal is to develop the finest Jewish preschool leaders in both Orange County and other areas as well.  We are happy that Peter Blair has established our school as a leader in the field.”
“This program capitalizes on investments previously made by the Covenant Foundation: the investment in a passionate community with a vision for relationships, inquiry, reflection, and responsibility in Jewish early childhood education,” Blair said.  “Realizing the potential of this investment will shift the paradigm and ensure lasting change in early childhood education.”
According to its website, the Covenant Foundation recognizes the diversity of strengths within the field of Jewish education in North America, across all denominations and settings.  By honoring outstanding Jewish educators and supporting creative approaches to programming, the Foundation works to strengthen educational endeavors that perpetuate the identity, continuity and heritage of the Jewish people.
There are no national early childhood initiatives that are working collaboratively at the local level.  Whereas particular movements have organized national listserves, conferences or think tanks, none of them has focused on intra-city professional growth and change.  By nurturing trusted relationships and forging a vision of excellence common among both national and multi-city cohorts, the Paradigm Project is uniquely positioned to effect the change that the field of Jewish early childhood education needs.
Each of the three Communities of Practice will meet and study together regularly, hosted and led by a Covenant Leadership Training fellow.  The focus will be the exploration of core Jewish values and best practices and will produce a network of colleagues who maintain trusting relationships and a shared language and vision.
This is a grassroots project, organized by the educators themselves on a peer to peer level.  Each participating educator will participate in planning and leading the local learning, gaining the skills to continue to further this collaborative learning process.
Early to mid-career Jewish early childhood educators from a range of settings (JCC, day school, synagogue and independent program) will be the focus of the communities of practice, broadening the scope of the Fellows program and touching children and families in many new communities and programs around the country.  Through the establishment of these local communities of practice, the Paradigm Project will give each educator much needed skills and the experience of this rich, ongoing learning process to bring back to the school environment. Invitations will be made to those key learners in the communities who demonstrate the passion, potential, and commitment necessary to learn and create as part of this paradigm change.
In the next few years, nearly 80 percent of Jewish early childhood directors are reaching retirement age, leaving the field in dire need of a new generation of leaders.  At the same time, evidence is mounting that meaningful Jewish engagement with young Jewish families — through the type of high-quality early childhood programs embodied by the Paradigm Project — offers the Jewish community a pipeline toward future Jewish educational, religious, political and philanthropic activism.
Blair summarized, “By recruiting the most promising early and mid-career individuals from local communities and beyond, this program seeks to exponentially magnify their own learning and commitment to affect the national field with meaningful, deep, and lasting change.  Quality programs that share a vision, instill deep values, nurture strong bonds and are guided by passionate educators who engage in best practices in Jewish early childhood education have the potential to leave an indelible mark in the lives of the children and families for generations to come.”
The Merage JCC is located at 1 Federation Way in Irvine.  For more information please call (949) 435-3400 or visit the website at www.jccoc.org.

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