CEO Notebook |
Earlier this summer I had the honor of being a guest on the newest season of The Enrollment Management Association’s Enrollment Spectrum Podcast, Impossible Questions. The name of this season was inspired by the kinds of questions addressed to independent school professionals that often feel too big or loaded to answer in one sitting, according to one of the co-hosts, Ari Betof. One example: when a board member asks in November if the school will achieve full enrollment and net tuition revenue goals for the following school year. These are the kind of questions no one can answer with certainty — but rather give us the opportunity to model the kinds of conversations that I hope you’re having at your schools.
The question I was tasked to address with fellow guest Heather Heorle, EMA’s executive director and CEO, was “Will we snap back and forget the lessons we’ve learned after the pandemic?”
I’ve presented with Heather countless times before as part of a standing partnership between EMA and NBOA, which began a few years ago when we set out to jointly address the transformation of financial aid. We started out by discussing issues of leadership, how school leaders found they could adapt and be nimble and deliver education in ways families were looking for. We hope that these lessons stick, unlike after the Great Recession of 2008-9, when many schools returned to hiring and shaping class sizes like they’d done before, for example. We were talking about how schools could use investments from the pandemic to rethink their business model, perhaps by offering online education at a lower price point. And how our schools can and should work with families to maintain a flexible mindset so that the whole school community can change for the better in ways that are mission aligned.
We were riffing off these ideas when Ari said, “People are tired. To me, the biggest risk of snapping back is exhaustion. It’s what I hear when I’m working with clients.” The truth is, the start of this school year was supposed to herald relief for a mostly normal school year ahead. But a surge in the highly contagious delta variant has reignited school leaders’ anxiety, and, for many, the school year once again feels tenuous. As we enter the third COVID-impacted school year, a continued exercise of flexibility and agility are needed to help sustain this innovative time in our schools.
Ari urged us to consider how we can sustain a level of innovation in the long term, after so much push for change in so short a time. And that gave me pause. My first thought — not a joke — is to make sure you take a vacation. It’s still early August, and I hope not too late to do so if you haven’t yet, though I know your business office is likely deep in its audit season.
My second thought is to turn to the partnerships developed in the past year and a half – be they among leaders of your school, the administration and the board, or other school leaders in your community and across the nation – and keep collaborating. Part of the “new normal” is sharing ideas with other schools and noting how other organizations approach the same issue with different tactics. We can together make each other and our markets — that is, the appetite for independent education — stronger.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to sit down with your colleagues with a pad of paper and collect experiences that you are thankful for during the pandemic and those you do not wish to bring forward with you in the coming year. This self-reflection allows you to consider more informed choices as you tackle the tough yet urgent questions, from enrollment and retention to authentically implementing DEI efforts, this coming school year. With all the available tools and meaningful partnerships at our fingertips, schools have the ability to use our independence to think differently to meet market demands and ultimately to thrive in perpetuity.
I sincerely wish you all a restful and refreshing remainder of summer, so you can return to your schools recharged in the fast-approaching fall. Once again, we will face a school year that will look like no other before it, but with many lessons learned and perhaps most importantly broader and better relationships behind us this time around.
Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
Projections: The Key To Creating Your "Escape Velocity" is Wellness (May/Jun 2021)Time To Vet a Reset? (Mar/Apr 2021)
Developing Future Leaders from Within (Jul 2021)
Projections: Restoring Our Communities (Jan/Feb 2021)
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