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Rocking in Cleveland

By Jeffrey Shields posted 29 days ago


CEO Notebook |

As new business officers prepare to hit the ground running, they learn how school leaders at every stage of their career can drive change.

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Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

Last week the Cleveland metro area was rattled by a 4.0 earthquake that struck just north of the city. This week the shakeup is not a seismic event, but rather a stampede of 77 business officers, an all-star faculty of veteran NBOA colleagues, 12 business partners and, of course, the hard-working and talented NBOA staff. All were heading toward this “independent school city” for the 2019 NBOA Business Officer Institute. Cleveland definitely rocks as the host city for this program’s largest-ever turnout.

As we begin this week, I am experiencing a variety of emotions. For many, June marks the end of a school year with proms and commencement ceremonies. Of course, many schools’ fiscal years are also nearing completion with year-end closing and audits close behind. For many BOI attendees, however, these five days of intensive learning and networking are just the beginning of their careers in independent schools. Every year the program aims to orient, educate and support the next generation of independent school business officers. BOI attendees may arrive as strangers on Monday, but by Friday, as they leave for both national and international destinations, they are part of our impressive community of independent school business officers — one of the most collegial and collaborative in the independent school industry. 

This year we are off to a great start. Our first of many meals together was at Hawken School, where we were welcomed by Head of School Scott Looney. Looney shared a contagious spirit of change management, innovation and passion for the work of independent school leaders. Under his leadership, Hawken strategically expanded its brand by purchasing a K-8 school in another part of the city that serves a different market and expands Hawken’s enrollment funnel. Looney also founded the Mastery Transcript Consortium, which is reshaping high school transcripts from static documents with an emphasis on GPA to an interactive platform that represents students more holistically. The goal is to align what we know is important for our students in the 21st century with what our transcripts say is important about our students and the educational experience at our schools.

Here are just a few of my takeaways from Looney’s remarks during the kickoff dinner of the 2019 NBOA Business Officer Institute:

  • When it comes to change management, people fear loss almost three times more than possible gains. For independent school leaders looking to launch initiatives, Looney recommended storytelling as a key way to bring people along the road of change. He describes himself as Hawken’s “storyteller-in-chief.”
  • Sometimes a failure is the launchpad for your next success. The school hoped to establish an early childhood center in a high-need area of Cleveland but was unable to secure the funding it needed. Looney’s take is that "all well-intentioned failure is welcome, but you can’t repeat it year after year.” The school learned that tax incentives and financial commitments of support may not be enough to fund a big idea.
  • When asked how business officers can partner in innovation, Looney said, “Business officers have the opportunity to help the head of school demonstrate the range of possible futures a change initiative can have.” By demonstrating that the impact of a worst-case scenario is manageable, business officers can play a key role in helping trustees focus on the change initiative itself.

If it sounds like I’m on an “NBOA high” from the start of this week’s program, you would be right. Just when I think the year is wrapped up in a bow, I have the privilege to experience firsthand what I treasure most about the independent school community and its business operations staff. It’s the smarts; the commitment to do the right thing, even with limited time and resources; the comradery binding together business officers in their unique roles at our schools; and most importantly, the unmistakable fun we have together.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, June 18, 2019. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.


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