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From the ED 11.5.15

Dear Colleagues,

Last time I wrote to you it was about my travel to Europe to visit my daughter and the impact this had on my thoughts for travel for your students. I travel extensively and have the opportunity to visit schools all over the world. This provides me with significant insight into the operations and challenges facing independent schools. Last week I returned from presenting at my 10th NESA conference. I spent three days with a group of mostly Business Managers from the NESA schools. During this time we had the opportunity to visit and tour two schools: American Community School of Abu Dhabi (ACS) and the American School of Dubai (ASD). As the names indicate these two schools, as well as most schools in the NESA group, are American International schools and are in the Middle East.

Many times I am asked about the similarities and differences between U.S. schools and international schools. I have realized that for the most part they are very similar in the students they serve and the programs they offer. There are some significant differences financially, however, as international schools do not typically offer financial aid, nor do many have active fundraising. These schools operate on a more sound “business model” charging tuition to cover the cost of fundraising. Most also charge either a one-time or annual “capital fee”, which covers new building costs and renovations. From an operational aspect, the single biggest challenge for these schools is related to safety and security. Several years ago, the school in Tunis was overrun during protests and the Lower School was burned down. The school in Damascus has been closed now for several years and it seems unlikely that it will reopen. Schools throughout the region work closely with the U.S. State Department to ensure the safety and security of students, parents, faculty, and staff.

Another significant challenge for these schools is hiring. Most of the faculty are ex-pats (many from the U.S.). They tend to stay at a school for a relatively short time – 2-5 years – and require significant cultural indoctrination as well as housing, cars, etc. Support staff, including most business office staff, tend to be local hires with a different wage scale, different benefits, etc. It can be complicated. These schools also tend to operate in a “dual-currency” model.

One other significant challenge is governance. Many of the families at these schools are transitory, only staying in one location for 3-5 years. That means that the board and board leadership are constantly changing. You can just imagine the challenges this presents for strategic thinking and action.

Visiting the two schools mentioned above provided an interesting contrast which would not be unusual if I visited two schools in the U.S. Both schools are relatively young (by U.S. standards) because the country, United Arab Emirates, was only formed in 1971. However, ASD recently completed the construction of a $120 million campus to support its growth. ACS on the other hand is constantly working within financial and space constraints to support its growth and programmatic changes and will be embarking on a campus renovation soon. This will require building on one athletic field to start, demolition of older buildings, working around campus, and finishing with a new athletic field at the end of the construction process – sound familiar to some of you? Both schools’ growth and ongoing success require significant coordination among the operational leaders (business, technology, facilities, and HR) with the Head of School and the Board of Trustees.

MISBO knows that networking with colleagues is of significant value to each of you and is a strategic value of our association. In addition to conferences and other opportunities to network, I would encourage you to visit other schools. Many of you are in geographic areas where there are a significant number of schools. Take some time, visit your colleagues, tour their schools, sit in on classes, etc. This is great professional development at essentially no cost. And for any of you that may be in the Miami, FL area on November 19th, make plans to join us for lunch at Gulliver Schools for our new MISBO On the Road program. You’ll hear from Suzanne Bogdan of Fisher & Phillips LLP as she discusses Wage Hour Law.

As the calendar has now turned to November (how can that possibly be?), I know that you are well into this school year, looking forward to a break at Thanksgiving, and getting prepared for all of the work and excitement that happens toward the end of the semester. Please take some time for yourselves and your families. Read a book, relax, and rejuvenate!


Marc Levinson
Executive Director, MISBO
Follow on Twitter: @MISBOconnects   @Marcll
MISBO on LinkedIn


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