As part of our Leadership Spotlight series, we’ve highlighted two lay leaders from Ohr Chadash Academy: Lanie Carter, ACHARAI Fellow Cohort VIII, and David Reidy, ACHARAI Fellow Cohort IX. Thanks to OCA teacher and Na’aleh Board Member Chavi Abramson for conducting the interview!

How do you set others up for success in your organization?

Lanie: I think something that sets board members up for success is identifying needs and opportunities within the organization and then matching those with the skill sets and talents of board members in a thoughtful way. There will be people on your board who absolutely despise making donation solicitations and others who thrive on it. There are also people on your board who have talents in areas that may be very helpful for the organization but they themselves have never thought of themselves as leaders in that capacity. Getting to know board members on a deep level and listening to their thoughts and interests in and out of board meetings not only strengthens board culture but also can result in a positive outcome for the organization.

David: I try whenever possible to collaborate and actively listen. I’ve also found leading from the center and working to find compromise between different points of view to be effective. More than compromise, setting up an organization and people for success is really about finding the common threads among all the parties. My role on the finance committee is to create a bridge between the various shareholders’ needs and points of view. While at times they conflict, they are all equally valid.

What was your entry point into the leadership role you have now?

Lanie: My entry to leadership at Ohr Chadash Academy (OCA) started very organically as the parent of a 1st grader who made a decision in May to send him to a brand-new school opening its doors in September. When the school was founded 12 years ago its formation happened quickly and required an all-hands-on-deck approach. The parent body pitched in with whatever was necessary to open a school in a matter of months.  There was a need for a coordinator of the hot lunch program, and it was something that I was able to do from home while working full-time. From there I started planning events for the PTA and became the PTA President. Once I completed the PTA Presidency, I joined the board and the rest, as they say, is history.

David: My children were OCA students, and I joined the OCA Finance committee in 2017 and have been a part of it ever since! While joining the Finance committee happened in a casual way, the more time passed the more committed I felt to strengthening my contribution to the school.

How has your journey as a leader changed?

Lanie: Since I didn’t set out to be a leader and was relatively young when my involvement started at OCA I would say that initially, my leadership skills were a little raw. I didn’t have much experience in board leadership, so I really felt that joining the AFP was a lifeline. It gave me the opportunity to think about how I wanted to lead, to fine-tune and develop leadership skills, and gave me seasoned mentors to help me work through challenges.  The built-in network of other board presidents provided an instantaneous and long list of people that I was able to rely on to give honest feedback or assistance with any need that I had. I still find myself turning to those mentors from AFP for advice or recommendations and they continue to be so gracious about sharing their time and knowledge.  

David: A few years ago, OCA went through a leadership change and that process, in which I was involved, drove home the idea that I really needed to fine tune my leadership and consensus building skills as the school is a maturing school. We’re no longer a fledgling school. My interest in ACHARAI was to further my capabilities as a leader because if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it well.

As chair of the OCA Finance Committee through the pandemic, there were a lot of changes we needed to implement. Since then, it’s been challenging to engage current and new lay leaders. AFP (though I’m not half way through it yet) has been a great foundation for problem solving, collaboration, and innovative thinking about engaging current leaders at OCA.

What is a challenge you are currently working on?

Lanie: I think that in one way or another every organization is dealing with the aftermath of COVID almost 3 years later. In education, the thing that first comes to mind is the national teacher shortage which was certainly accelerated and exacerbated by the pandemic. Jewish Days Schools across the country feel the effects of the teacher shortage and our school is no exception. That’s a hard challenge for organizations that are in the business of educating children.

David: Engagement and recruitment have been growing issues. Our professional leadership has been tremendous and supportive, but recruiting for board and committee positions can be challenging.  Finance is particularly tough. My current committee consists of a broad skill set, but we also have to recruit the next generation of leadership. One of the ways I have approached the financial aspect of running a school is through reaching out to younger schools in other cities to learn from their model.  I engaged in networking for ideas to bridge typical financial difficulties within the Jewish Day School . I’m always looking to gain understanding and realize we have to go beyond the 4 walls of the OCA community. We don’t have to recreate the wheel – we need to tap into those who have success in similar ideas. Broader outreach and networking have provided creative solutions for Financial security. 

What leadership strength do you bring to address these challenges?

Lanie: Gratitude is something that is at my core. I like to take time to really think about everything that I am grateful for and try my best to express it often. I didn’t have the privilege of attending a Jewish school when I was young so my gratitude for our institution feels a little more personal to me. I try to channel that feeling into board leadership from many angles but with this challenge specifically, I want to be sure that our staff feels how grateful we are to have them and that by extension they love coming to work at OCA.  On a board level that means examining and prioritizing how we can best invest in our staff and make sure that they are taken care of so that they can focus on doing their jobs. It may mean tweaking budget numbers or increasing a development line item but that sense of gratitude for our staff fuels board-level action.

David: Persistence and active listening have been valuable  I really try and listen and ask questions.

What would you tell your younger self when you first started on your leadership journey?

Lanie: I would tell myself that it’s important to trust your gut and listen to your instincts because they rarely lead you astray.  Additionally, I would want my younger self to know that a good leader does not actually need to have all of the answers and that is a sign of strength rather than weakness to seek guidance from colleagues and people with expertise.

David: Patience leads to perspective, be deliberate and cautious but have confidence in processes and your own judgment. Listen and collaborate. My younger self joined the board because I was asked. I wasn’t particularly enthused about it. However, the passion and advocacy came from being involved. I wasn’t aware that there was a need for problem solving and involvement until I passively joined the board and now, I’m much noisier and more passionate about OCA. I found my voice from showing up when I didn’t really think it was valuable.  I see now, from the inside out, what optimization needs to occur and am proud to be a leader within this organization.