Hoping to improve the state of Diaspora Jewish education, principals from 19 different Jewish day schools in the United States and Canada convened on July 9 for a 10-day conference in Jerusalem. The seminar is being coordinated by Bar-Ilan University's Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in partnership with the Avi Chai Foundation. The forum offers participants the opportunity to share their diverse Jewish backgrounds with one another. "What makes this seminar particularly unique and exciting is the hands-on involvement of each participant. As a result, the principals go home with new ideas and real tools with which to initiate school improvement within the context of their unique school culture," said program director Deborah Court. The conference's major themes include: engaging in leadership projects, fostering school culture, and addressing the main challenges facing each individual school. Following the seminar, participants will partake in year-long research projects with the help of the Lookstein Center. The "conference offers the opportunity for reflective leadership as opposed to someone telling you how to lead," said principal Richard Altabe of Magen David Yeshiva in Brooklyn. One of Altabe's goals for the seminar, he said, is to develop a plan for improving student self-expectations. By sharing the reflective research methodology with New York educators, he hopes to improve the overall student learning atmosphere, he said. A past program participant, Lee Buckman, returned this year as a mentor after successfully implementing his research plan to raise awareness of Zionism in his school. Buckman, founder of the non-denominational Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit, praised the methodology behind the action plan as it "can be applied to any school or context whether increasing staff morale or connection to Israel." In February, the group will reconvene in Florida for a follow-up session to assess participants' progress and improve their initiatives.