we discuss annual agenda setting; dealing with hidden inflation; and developing healthy learning environments for students.
The most forward-thinking advisory letter for private-independent school leaders.
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Setting the annual agendas by the Board President and School Head is a key skill for executing the strategic plan/strategic financial plan. No matter how great the strategic plan and strategic financial plan are, they remain inert and powerless unless they are annually tethered to an actionable process. Using annual agendas turns them into the difference-makers that move the school forward.
As Facilities Director, Business Manager, or Chair of the Building and Grounds Committee in a school that includes young children, your role has changed dramatically over the past decade. You must consider not just the safety and prestige of your buildings, but also its ability to support and impact student learning.
In this article, we explore research indicating what effective buildings can do to improve learning environments. This is not about innovative architecture but about the connection between light, sound, temperature, etc., and learning, what is known as internal environmental quality (IEQ).
As a member of the Board of Trustees, School Head, or Chief Financial Officer, you know that a decision to hold tuition flat for a year results in lost ground and places pressure on future budgets. Inflation quietly depletes your real income.
But it’s worse than you think.
Many schools use the Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) to determine inflation year-to-year.1 However, the CPI-U does not reflect expenses in private schools, and may not reflect your state’s—or even your city’s—true rate of inflation. For example, the annual rates of inflation in San Francisco, San Diego, New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington DC are typically higher than most other cities in the country. Thus, the CPI-U should only serve as a base figure. There are compelling arguments for adjusting your tuition at a rate above the inflation rate in your school’s particular area.
ISM has consistently applauded schools’ efforts to continue to connect with students once they have graduated or left the school. While ISM has been skeptical about the willingness of alumni to give to their pre-collegiate institutions, that situation seems to be changing. Indeed, day schools are joining boarding schools in carefully cultivating and engaging their alumni.The result is willingness for alumni to volunteer, assist current students with networking opportunities and a marked increase in giving from this important constituent group.
As Admission Director, you are an expert at building relationships and cultivating enthusiasm about the educational opportunities your school offers for each child and family. While some admission professionals use the initial prospective family conversation to promote enthusiasm for the school’s philanthropic endeavors—some do not. Some actively resist any notion of addressing the school’s philanthropic pursuits during the admission cultivation experience, fearing the prospective family will lose interest in pursuing enrollment. In fact, the opposite is true. Families appreciate being fully informed about the mission trajectory of the school—and actively seek an accurate expression of costs, expectations, and community responsibilities.
Research and experience has led ISM to hypothesize that the School Head’s well-being significantly relates to school outcomes. ISM recently conducted a study of School Heads to extend our knowledge of executive leadership and investigate the relationship among our Tier 1 Stability Markers, School Heads’ characteristics and experience, and their well-being. In upcoming I&P issues, we will publish the more nuanced results of this study. The purpose of this article is to re-introduce our approach to the measurement of executive leadership and describe the general results and conclusions.
Great leaders can transform a school and take it to new heights, whereas poor leaders can cause great challenges for schools. We have long asserted that, as the executive leader, your “style” does not seem to account for the differences in organizational performance. Nonetheless, you are a critical component of a school’s ability to deliver its mission with excellence. If it is not style, then what are the critical aspects of executive leaders that separate the best leaders from the rest?
ISM periodically re-analyzes, reconfigures, and updates its list of Stability Markers. The ISM Stability Markers are in continual and widespread use in the private-independent school world as reliable guideposts in strategic planning and strategic financial planning.
As Board President or School Head, you may find it helpful to consider the Stability Markers’ opposite extremes—private-independent school practices that, from ISM’s perspective, are likely to contribute to “strategic instability.” This article may be especially useful in teaching situations, such as in your annual new-Trustee orientation or in presentations to constituents outside the Board and senior administration.
As Business Manager or Facilities Manager, you know that providing housekeeping services is not just about “cleaning.” It’s about how people are motivated to serve “customers.” The challenge for administrators is to provide consistent and continuing leadership to these employees, enabling them to deliver excellent service daily, while keeping an eye on the bottom line. If no one has communicated your housekeeping standards, this often creates confusion and misunderstanding among both your housekeeping staff and their “customers”—your school’s Board, faculty and staff, parents, and students.
In a previous article, we listed observable behaviors that collectively form an action premise from which each Headship develops. In this article, we consider the senior administrator position—those who report directly to the Head and collectively form the Leadership Team.
The essential expectations list is one of two criteria for administrator evaluation. The other criteria are objectives created from the annual administrative agenda. This agenda’s objectives change each year as the strategic needs of the school continue to evolve, as articulated through the Board’s strategic plan/strategic financial plan. The essential expectations, on the other hand, are a constant reflecting the observable behaviors that the School Head expects each member the Leadership Team to exhibit and the Head evaluates.
ISM has written much over the years about Head evaluation. We now update and further explain the basis for the employer/employee relationship between the Board of Trustees and the School Head.
An understanding of the critical distinction between the strategic plane and the operations plane resides at the heart of private-independent school governance. The Board lives on the strategic plane with its actions and focus encapsulated in the strategic plan/strategic financial plan. This vision of the school’s future, with its companion fiscally conservative assumptions, provides the guide rails to Board action through the annual Board agenda and to operations action through the annual administrative agenda. Thus, the strategic plane not only determines the school’s visionary future but, by direct implication, also determines the most important actions to take on the operations plane by the School Head and administration. The direction is inviolate—the Board decides the school’s direction and only the Board can change that direction. The School Head controls how to make that direction operational and has almost complete discretion over that, limited only by the strategic financial plan’s fiscal assumptions.
In ISM’s Advancement Model, we advocate strategically integrating admission, marketing communications, and development at the service of your school’s mission. This model facilitates a united function that inspires and manages the flow of resources into the school—recruiting and re-recruiting students and their families and inviting philanthropic investment.
In a previous article, we provided four factors to keep in mind when considering facilities planning.
- Curriculum does not drive facility needs.
- Environmental regulatory concerns and communications infrastructure require a flexible approach.
- Design matters to students, and their voice is important.
- Facilities must move from command and control (adult-centered) to multifunctional collaborative learning (student-centered).
We now expand these factors to inform key campus master development planning.
The ISM Stability Markers comprise outcomes of ISM Consultants’ internal studies that periodically address the question: What variables are associated most strongly, according to ISM data, with a private-independent school’s ability to sustain excellence? This article—a snapshot of the larger array—provides readers with a self-scored estimate of the more comprehensive, 18-item set of ISM Stability Markers. This is designed to be used by the School Head, Business Manager, or other senior administrators in developing a preliminary, yet thoroughly data-driven, portrait of your school’s organizational and financial positioning for the long run.
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