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From the ED 1.30.14

Dear Colleagues,

Let me begin by sending my best wishes to all our member schools in the MISBO region about the winter storm that hit this week.  It is my deepest hope that all students, faculty and staff in all schools are now safe and warm.  These situations test us all, yet they present “teachable moments” as well, including your emergency planning procedures and communication plans.  Once things settle, and you re-open your doors, it may be a good idea to review your processes to see what went according to plan and what aspects of your emergency planning can be improved.  Just last week MISBO presented a webinar on “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your School’s Emergency Operations Plan,” please feel free to review the presentation and download the slides from our Webinar Archives page (member login required).

I have mentioned that Pat Bassett lives in Boulder and we have the opportunity to connect from time to time and discuss what we are each doing – primarily about what we are seeing with independent schools. Pat sent me a note a couple of days ago asking:

“What would YOU say are true five most important things for a school to do to ensure a financially secure future?”

This is not a question that I would answer too quickly to anyone and certainly not to Pat. I gave this some serious thought.  Actually I have been giving this question thought for years! Below is my response to Pat.  I thought it would be worthwhile sharing this with all of you and of course I would enjoy hearing your feedback at


I have been thinking about how to answer this. Over the past year I have given great thought to the concept of a sustainable school – more than just being financially sustainable.

My first answer to your question is to propose that schools need to think beyond just financial sustainability. I believe that there are four critical components that need to work in harmony for a school to be sustainable:

  1. Financial – this is obvious but irrelevant without the next three. The components of this are really what you are asking.
  2. Educational Transformation – an ongoing endeavor for schools as we evolve in our thinking about what it means to be a great school. Anything that was written or discussed even 3-5 years ago is unlikely to be as relevant today. Schools need to learn to embrace uncertainty and constant change in how we deliver our product.
  3. Professionalize Marketing – we have talked for years now about the importance of articulating each school’s value proposition. The next important step is to get that message out to our communities. It does no good if we cannot spread the message. Our schools have not understood or embraced the importance of appropriate marketing.
  4. Governance – you and I both know that a large majority of our schools have a dysfunctional governance model. Much of this is the result of the model of our boards being filled with parents. Also, most of our board leaders know little about education. There needs to be a makeover!

Components to ensure a financially secure future:

1)     Discipline – think Jim Collins – across the board

2)     Staffing model – we really cannot expect to survive with the % of our expenses that is currently allocated to people

3)     Part of the staffing model is ensuring we have the right people in the right places on the bus – again I refer to Jim Collins.  So many of our schools continue to waste scarce resources by not evaluating performance and not taking action.

4)     Reduce dependence on annual giving – as my friend Dr. Soghoian says ‘tuition is for the present and annual giving or voluntary giving is for the future.’  Let’s get to a model of funding where tuition pays for the cost of educating each child.

5)     Ensure that the Business Officer and Head of School are a team that works together in a strategic manner.  I continue to be frustrated by the fact that so many Business Officers do not truly understand the dynamics of the business they are supposed to manage. Some of this is due to the Head and much is due to the business officer. However Heads are hiring Business Officers who are primarily financial people – perhaps not the most appropriate profile.

By the way, I will be presenting at both the upcoming NAIS and NBOA conferences in Orlando on these subjects.  I hope to see you at one of these events



Marc Levinson
Executive Director, MISBO
Twitter:  @MISBOconnects    @Marcll

From → MISBO

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