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Projections: The Hope Still Lives

By Jeffrey Shields posted 06-29-2020 08:35 AM


Projections |

Global challenges to the status quo demand that we change and adapt.

From the July/August 2020 Net Assets magazine

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” During these turbulent times, Ted Kennedy’s famous words encapsulate for me the importance of the work upon us as well as the hope that remains. When you began your tenure at an independent school, did you ever think you would enter a school year facing the worst pandemic in more than 100 years, massive disruption to the economy and the most animated era of civil protest in the United States since the 1960s? We knew the context of our jobs would be compelling, but nothing so momentous as this, I would wager.

This issue of Net Assets focuses on some of the many risks your school may face now and in the future. One of the most daunting aspects of tackling these risks is the simple fact that our school communities have remained apart for months. Learning communities have lacked face-to-face opportunities to process these events and provide the health and wellness support that reflects our missions and regular campus programming. From afar, we are attempting to understand what students and families are thinking and feeling, as it relates to the COVID-19 health crisis as well as the inexplicable killing of black people at the hands of law enforcement, resulting in demonstrations in cities large and small from coast to coast and around the world.

In terms of the pandemic, as school leaders, our first obligation to our schools is ensuring the physical safety and social-emotional well-being of the students, faculty and staff within our communities when we resume classes in the fall, whether that is in-person or again in a fully virtual environment. In-classroom learning will require managing potential liability, while returning online could disrupt the school’s perceived value proposition. On top of these difficult decisions, the financial concerns we have lived with for years have not abated, and in many cases have increased substantially. But as this issue’s cover story shows, in the past few months business officers have drawn on sometimes surprising reserves of flexibility. Practices once believed to be immovable have in fact proved to be unsustainable amid the health crisis. The coming months may bring more of these changes — we can only hope for the better — as we continue to mitigate the risks of this new disease.

In terms of the recent protests and Black Lives Matter movement, which together aim to bring justice, healing and freedom to Black people across the globe, we are watching for change that has been long overdue. As it begins to take root at the local, state and federal levels, it is important to ask: How will this impact your school community, and what will you do as leaders?

Dr. Derrick Gay, an internationally recognized consultant on issues of diversity, inclusion and global citizenship, shared with Net Assets magazine earlier this year why business officers’ involvement is “incredibly important”: They are “the gatekeepers of resource allocation.” When he visits schools, one of the first things he asks to see is the ledger, because “your ledger gives me a sense of your priorities,” he explained. “From a business standpoint, it’s important to make sure that resources are benefiting more than a small percentage of the school’s population. When individuals in the business office know the value proposition [of diversity, equity and inclusion work] to the entire community, it creates more openings for departments and individuals to acquire the resources needed to advance the work.”

NBOA has begun its own work with the unanimous Board approval of our Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to provide unequivocal support to our association community. This statement will serve as a foundation for the work of the NBOA Board of Directors and staff going forward, and has already impacted choices regarding programming, governance and a new staff working group.

This is but one chapter in our independent school story. When we write the next chapter together, it may tell of loss, but also hope and long-awaited change inside and outside the business office.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.



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