Susan Remick Topek
“We cannot pretend to work for the best interests of children
while ignoring the needs of their parents.” Joyce L. Frett
This In-Site-Ful Journey took us to Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation on Long Island. Jen Fusco, the director, has developed and redeveloped the enhancements and services of her program based on the needs of the families in her community. Being so intuitive and responsive demonstrates the ability she has as a leader to be adaptive and understand the importance of change! Jen had a vision of answering the needs of families and has thus made her boutique style school unique in this way; and delivering more personalized services. I’m delighted educators had the chance to see the spaces she’s helped to create and hear from Jen directly how and why she did the things she did.
On our visit we were exposed to the varied programs that Jen and her staff have integrated into the framework of the school. The first stems from her understanding of the centrality of play in learning. She redesigned underutilized rooms and made them into specialty rooms for block building and dramatic play. By renovating another room and renewing her license the school is now certified for new infant/child full day care, and provides parents with flex time use. Flex time use allows families to use the day care when they need it, changing drop off and pick up times when necessary. Due to a generous donation, a sensory room for children with sensory behavior challenges was created. Now specialists can meet with students in the school with appropriate equipment to help each individual child. Appointments are scheduled in this space for children by their therapists and are available to the community at large. All of these accommodations demonstrate a sense of caring and generosity ny the school.
But for me Jen’s grasp and approach towards marketing her school to the community is the BIG WIN for those who attended. Jen has been more than thoughtful about doing this. She understands the culture of the families that she is trying to reach and strives to continue learning about that culture. She knows that parents have certain expectations and when they ask for particular programs from the school, Jen’s attitude is, “Why not?”
Jen showed us different information pieces that she created, both in hard copy and on-line. She uses the latest in technology and social media sites for reaching out to and connecting to families. She understands the demographics of her community so that when she advertises she can focus TO THE STREET of where she needs to make contact. One participant remarked that Jen made it so easy – and that she used “user-friendly” marketing tools. The participant added that she had been making so much work for herself previously and had really learned so much from Jen’s strategies.
One especially important strategy that Jen employs is in creating relationships with others in the community with who she can partner to expand and develop more ideas. For example, she writes articles about early childhood in a local newspaper in exchange for advertising her school. When a dentist visited the school, she asked if she could put brochures in his office as he gave brochures about his dental practice to school families. In doing this and in other ways, Jen has become a more networked and more collaborative community partner.
I think Jen has the pulse of families today. She understands how to communicate with them, she understands and accepts the culture of millennials and has created programs at Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation that understands, accepts and supports their needs.