From the March/April 2019 Net Assets magazine
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to keynote the Virginia Association of Independent Schools’ conference for heads of school. Early in my discussions with the planning committee, I sensed that the leaders of these schools wanted something different. The conference theme, “Leading with Confidence,” indicated a yearning for conviction and optimism to counter the gloom-and-doom scenarios that are so often painted. I gladly accepted the opportunity, which provided much to think about.
What is optimism for independent schools, especially from the business and finance perspective? I understand the challenges within this competitive environment, but I also firmly believe there is more than simply “a place” for independent preK-12 education. Not only do I feel that an alternative to public education is essential, but I further believe that independent schools — because we are independent — can innovate most successfully in preparing students for the future.
And yet, understanding that the threats are real, how would I address these leaders without sounding naïve?
To me, an optimistic leader understands the value of their organization and leverages this value to its greatest advantage. They know when the status quo has ceased to advance the organization, and they seek partners to help create the necessary change. (For heads of school facing financial pressures, the logical partners are the board of trustees and business officers.) Most importantly, an optimistic leader does not deny the challenges that face their school but ensures that they have the knowledge, expertise, resources and tools to address them. An optimistic leader is empowered — not a Pollyanna.
Q: What do you think more schools can do to inspire optimism among their faculty and staff?
A: Faculty and staff should understand and be able to articulate their school’s unique value proposition and how they see themselves contributing to it. Give them opportunities to see themselves not only in the school’s daily work, but also in the delivery of its mission and its future.
Q: What else makes you optimistic this spring?
A: I am a “cup half-full” kind of guy naturally, so it does not take much. Professionally, I’m looking forward to being on the road to meet members, attending the 2019 Business Officer Institute in Cleveland and working with Chuck McCullagh, chief financial officer of The Williston Northampton School, as the new NBOA Board Chair. Personally, my daughter Samantha will be celebrating
One of the key roles NBOA plays as a partner to schools is to provide resources and tools that can help them operate more successfully. The NBOA Long-Range Financial Model has long helped leaders and boards of trustees look strategically at their schools’ financial future. More recently, as a result of investments in our Business Intelligence for Independent School (BIIS) data-collection platform, we have introduced two additional tools, The NBOA Financial Dashboard and The Composite Financial Index Calculator, that give schools confidence that they are looking at the correct financial levers and making data-informed decisions to steward their schools in a positive direction.
Moreover, in this very issue of Net Assets, we offer thought leadership and real-life examples of schools that are creatively securing new revenue sources, outside of tuition, to help acquire the necessary funds to deliver their missions today and in the future.
At the VAIS conference, one leader approached me to share something that resonated with her and her peers. As optimistic as they strive to be, she said they sometimes feel like they are being asked to change the tires on a moving car. I empathized. It’s true that we can never stop the everyday demands of delivering our mission and educating students in order to do this hard work. But, as I reminded them, none of them were hired to manage the status quo. There lies the opportunity to lead. I remain optimistic.
Getting Schooled on Leading Change
Leading a Culture of Innovation: Sir Ken Robinson
Innovation, Collaboration Help Small Colleges Weather Challenges
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