Pursuing Excellence Through Your Early Childhood Center

In the realm of early childhood education, congregations are not only competing with other Jewish institutions but with a wide array of programs that are responsive and are meeting the needs of families. The increased costs of running schools and the impact of government-funded universal pre-kindergarten are among many factors that are changing the landscape of early childhood education.

Many of today's parents of young children are finding that their needs are not being met in our congregational early childhood centers (previously referred to as preschool) so they are going elsewhere. In order to compete, Reform congregations must take a comprehensive approach to early childhood education and develop a unique identity in today's ever changing marketplace. The early childhood director, synagogue professionals and/or lay leaders must work together as partners. Through the community of practice model, the URJ supports early childhood leadership teams as they navigate the change process.

The URJ Pursuing Excellence Through Your Early Childhood Center Community of Practice brought together congregations interested in starting or significantly enhancing their efforts with this cohort from January 2013-June 2014. It was comprised of fourteen congregations that shared a concern and passion for pursuing excellence in their early childhood centers, and sought to advance current strategies. Through active participation over the 18-month process, the leaders learned together about key challenges and opportunities of engaging families with young children, studied best principles from across the field, and identified and executed a pilot experiment to scale-up their efforts. 

Challenges Addressed

  • Improve the base of support for early childhood while integrating the ECC into the greater congregational community
  • Innovative membership strategies to engage EC families into the congregation
  • Need to meet today's families "where they are" regarding offering longer hours and more flexible scheduling
  • Increased demand for fulltime infant care
  • Changes in Early Childhood Governance Structure to include "early engagement"
  • Expanding role of Early Childhood Director
  • Moving away from programmatic evaluation to more comprehensive assessment of the Early Childhood Center

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