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From the ED 1.22.15

Dear Colleagues,

Last week I had the opportunity to present at the NCAIS Heads and Trustee Conference in Southern Pines, NC. It was a large group consisting of nearly all of the Heads from North Carolina as well as some from South Carolina. The topic I presented was about head transitions. This presentation was the result of months of research on my part and an article I have written which will be published by MISBO this spring. It will also appear in the online version of NAIS’s Independent School Magazine.

Here are the key takeaways from my findings:

  • Board leadership and board leadership planning and transition is critical to the success of the head of school transition. I suggest that as a best practice, search committee chairs be designated as the next board chair. This could be timed to coincide with the arrival of the new head or be a year or two later. In the case studies presented in the full article, this one factor was significant to predicting success.
  • Boards need to look carefully at the concept of succession planning and build this into their thinking and expectations for the head of school. It is clear that in the corporate environment CEOs are expected to groom people to succeed them. Even in our smallest schools this is possible. It is interesting to note that over 80% of S&P 500 CEOs in the past two years were hired internally, yet about 85% of independent school heads were hired externally.
  • Leadership development must become a priority for our schools and the logical place for this to fall is with the associations that serve them. Succession planning will not be possible without the appropriate resources for leadership development. Some of this can be done internally at the school level, but more must be done on the state, regional, and national levels.
  • Boards need to consider the skills required to lead a 21st century school and that these may be different than what has been successful in the past. We are in the midst of a rapid transformation of our educational models and the traditional model of leadership is unlikely to be successful for an innovative, progressive school.
  • Boards need to consider looking outside of the traditional places for new heads. First, they must consider people who have had no experience as a head of school. Second, they need to look at people who have not been teachers. Third, they need to look outside of independent schools for more options. Again, the challenge is to match the skills required and the school’s culture with the person to lead.
  • Finally, the search firms that have served independent schools well for decades need to consider changing their approach; otherwise other nontraditional search firms will continue to gain a stronger position in this market.

Many will agree with me that the primary responsibility of the school’s board of trustees is their role in selecting, evaluating, and supporting the head of school. As the findings above indicate, this responsibility needs to be taken very seriously.

I also encourage you to take a look at our schedule for the MISBO/FISBO 2015 Business Officer Conference which will be held April 19-21 at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, FL. You can find the full schedule here. I think you will find topics of interest for many in your leadership team. This conference is open to all and we encourage you to join your Florida colleagues in this great learning experience. Registration is open so let’s meet in Boca!


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

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