Like the Azrieli Foundation, the Darca Schools network understands that education is critically important in creating a society with equal opportunities for all. For the past decade, the educational network has supported schools in Israel’s periphery, helping to transform them into high-quality institutions. Currently serving more than 24,000 students across 43 schools, Darca has been integral to the development of diverse communities across the country.
This impressive record of success is the reason why, in 2018, the Azrieli Foundation selected Darca to operate the Azrieli Institute for Educational Empowerment on its behalf. The AIEE was the Foundation’s first education program in Israel, created in 2002 with a novel approach: work with students at a young age to ensure that they stay in school. The program provides educational support, social development skills and seminars to improve communication between youth and their parents.
Both Darca and the Azrieli Foundation understood that there was another challenge in the system. Research shows that a school’s principal plays a critical role in influencing school performance. Israel’s school system is currently suffering from a severe shortage of high-quality principals, which is compromising its education system.
Two main factors contribute to this problem: First, the Ministry of Education has demanded rigorous criteria for principal certification, requiring that all candidates be active and experienced teachers. This has narrowed the field of potential candidates, filtering out those working in the private and public sectors, whose management experience could be huge assets to schools. As a result, the system needs to fill approximately 600 principal positions annually, while only certifying 200-300 principals each year.
Second, the demands on school principals worldwide have evolved and increased in recent decades, yet the training they receive has not evolved at the same pace. In addition to the standard management role of the past, principals are currently expected to negotiate often-conflicting messages from educational authorities, local municipalities, teachers’ associations and parents, master the intricacies of their school’s complex financial system, integrate advanced technological innovation on an ongoing basis, be knowledgeable in multiple disciplines such as entrepreneurship, marketing, communication, budgeting, innovative pedagogy and more. The insufficient training that principals receive for the complexity of their positions, combined with the toll the job takes on their work-life balance, has led to burnout among principals, with around 25% of Israeli principals quitting within their first two years on the job.
During the Azrieli Foundation’s process of exploring a new program that specifically targets principals as a vector for improving the Israeli public school system and underpinning success for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the Foundation discovered that Darca was keen to undertake a new initiative to address this challenge.
The Azrieli Foundation engaged Darca to implement the Educational Leadership Accelerator (ELA) on the Foundation’s behalf. This initiative aims to provide a targeted response to the principal shortage with a one-year fellowship program to train, equip, motivate and inspire potential new principals. The ELA could have significant impact across the entire educational system by introducing new principals who have the knowledge, practical skills, energy, inspiration and motivation to lead their schools and students to success.
With the professional skills of Darca’s management team, coupled with the practical experience Darca has accumulated in working closely with its own principals, the Azrieli Foundation is confident that its ELA program will be a success, and will enable the Foundation to have a more significant impact on Israel’s education sector in both the short and long term.