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2020: Positives To Remember in a Year We Hope To Soon Forget

By Jeffrey Shields posted 12-15-2020 11:32 AM


CEO Notebook |

We have accomplished so much together – let us take a moment to celebrate it. 

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Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

In my November 17 blog, “Honoring This Year’s Efforts and Outcomes,” I encouraged school leaders to “take a moment to recognize the herculean changes our schools have made this calendar year,” and to learn from them and from fellow school leaders. As we look to tie a bow on 2020 – if it deserves one – I would like to take this opportunity to recognize what we have achieved as an association during this tumultuous but impactful year.

As always, NBOA strove to develop, deliver and promote best business practices to advance independent schools, and this year especially, to meet our member schools when they needed it most. Thanks go not only to my NBOA colleagues but also to our volunteer leaders, and to everyone at a member school who has shared an idea on NBOA Connect, participated in a flash survey, or offered their thoughts during an online course, webinar chat or constituent call.

I have never before seen school business leaders adapt so quickly, learn so ferociously or lead so carefully.

In my ten-year tenure as NBOA’s president and CEO, I have never before seen school business leaders adapt so quickly, learn so ferociously or lead so carefully. You prioritized safety while transitioning your signature offerings to virtual and hybrid models that you never dreamed would be necessary. And you did so in concert with inspirational educators serving your school’s mission as well as colleagues around the country. Here is some of what we accomplished together:

2020 NBOA Annual Meeting

For many of us (1,363 of us to be exact), the last time we traveled for business, or perhaps at all, was to the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, for the 2020 NBOA Annual Meeting. The relationships we developed there and elsewhere helped us weather the professional demands of this pandemic. We gathered for general addresses by broadcaster Soledad O’Brien, magician and entrepreneur Vinh Giang, and psychologist and author Lisa Damour, as well as dozens of concurrent and Deep Dive sessions led by school leaders and industry experts. Attendees came together through receptions, fitness activities and for the first time, a hands-on a volunteer project that served local families living with food insecurity. It was the highlight of our year — and we returned home safely just in the nick of time.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response

Even prior to the Annual Meeting, in early February, NBOA staff began providing industry guidance related to the novel coronavirus, before it had an official name and when it was still presumably localized to China. From that point forward, our pandemic response team worked tirelessly to prepare our schools to navigate the unknown ahead. Twenty “just-in-time” COVID-19 webinars organized by NBOA together with 14 additional webinars organized in partnership with other associations and featuring NBOA staff, reached a total of 17,000 participants. And more than 38,000 readers engaged with the 23 pandemic related articles developed for by mid-summer. Our capstone effort was the August release of Operating Guidance for Independent School Pandemic Management: A COVID-19 Field Guide, which details how to track and assess the safety of the full range of campus activities under present circumstances.

You can still turn to NBOA’s COVID-19 resources page to find analysis, guidance, tools and templates on everything from PPP loans to PPE procurement, and we continue to offer new learning opportunities, such as the new course, Engaging in Difficult Conversations with Employees During the Pandemic.  

NBOA Leadership Academy

The inaugural NBOA Leadership Academy launched in August. This one-year program was designed for a select cohort of independent school business office professionals to gain the skills and organizational perspectives necessary to grow and advance as an independent school business leader. Through a partnership with the Independent School Leadership M.Ed. Program at Vanderbilt University, the participants along with their esteemed business office mentors and program faculty are connecting virtually to enhance their understanding of leadership’s complex roles and responsibilities as well as to develop relationships in the independent school community while elevating their impact within their schools. The 16 participants in the 2020-21 cohort will be recognized at the 2021 NBOA Annual Meeting: An All-Virtual Experience (registration is open) and will conclude this signature experience in March. Nominations for the 2021-22 cohort will open this spring.


We joke that NBOA became a publishing house in 2020, having published two books, two research reports and completely revamped essential guidance covering all aspects of independent school business operations — far beyond what our small but mighty staff manages in a typical year. In order of appearance, these publications are Financial State of the Industry: BIIS 5-year Trend Report (February), Practical Guidance for Independent School Business Operations: Second Edition (March), the above-mentioned pandemic field guide (August), Effective Financial Governance for Independent School Trustees (September) and Demographics of the Independent School Business Office: Key Research Findings 2020 (October). These myriad offerings should help address various business office concerns for some time to come. And while this past year was an exceptional effort, we have more in store for you in 2021 – stay tuned.  

Needless to say, I am proud of our association’s accomplishments in 2020. I know that our work helped you and your schools navigate a very challenging year, and that is rewarding to all of us. On behalf of the entire NBOA staff, it is such a privilege to serve such an impressive and dedicated group of school leaders. Thank you for your commitment to students and their families, faculty and staff, and for prioritizing safety and wellness above all else this year while you tenaciously worked to fulfil your school’s mission.

Stay safe and healthy during the upcoming holiday season and take time to rest and reenergize as we turn the page and embark upon 2021.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, December 15, 2020. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.


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