02/19/2021 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Consultants Presenting at 2021 NAIS Annual Conference

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We are excited to share that three of our experienced and talented search consultants—Bob Vitalo, Burke Zalosh, and Bruce Dennis—have been selected to present at this year’s NAIS Annual Conference on Friday, February 26 at 1:15 pm EST. Given the uptick we have noted in boards seeking new heads and candidates considering exciting new leadership possibilities, their topic could not be more timely: “Time to Take a Deep Breath:  How Schools Manage Leadership Transition and Not Have it Be a Crisis!”

In a workshop that is intended to be highly interactive, Bob, Burke, and Bruce will present a creative and challenging case study that will be a prompt for the session. The circumstances they detail will engage participants in a discussion of how a “normal” search should be conducted and how the process might need to be adapted if there is an “abrupt” departure or other circumstance that requires a deviation from the prescribed plan.

In the recent NAIS report “Head Turnover at Independent Schools: Sustaining School Leadership,” the authors discuss that almost one in five of new and interim heads of school in the 2019-2020 school year followed a head who had held the position for three years or fewer according to NAIS DASL data, while nearly one in three schools in this survey reported having had three or more heads of school in the past 10 years.

Gone are the days of all but a very few heads having decades-long tenure of service at schools. The rapid changes we see in leadership can be attributed to a wide array of factors: financial pressures; declines in enrollment; board/head relations; an overdue and heightened focus on matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the need for increased fundraising are just a few. In addition, it seems apparent that all of these leadership challenges have been amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, destabilizing normal school operations and fraying people’s nerves in ways we’ve never experienced before.

Recognizing there is no more important decision that a board makes than hiring a new head of school, the vast majority of boards demonstrate great care, thoughtfulness, and a deep commitment to the mission of their schools when faced with this responsibility. Everyone tries to enter the process with the intention of “getting it right.” If boards are proactive and concerned, how could it ever go wrong? Well-intentioned but possibly misdirected decisions can lead to frustration and disappointment for the trustees, make newly appointed heads feel at risk and, most importantly, create situations in which school communities lose trust in their leaders.

There is an optimal cycle to the search process that our firm has honed and that our consultants employ. Schools are assured of the best results if they give themselves the necessary time to source candidates and create the most accurate job description. But the pursuit of the “good fit” leaves schools and search committees open to falling victim to unconscious bias. Committees should work to go beyond what is known and pursue what is needed. Instead of defaulting to the tried and true, schools should keep in mind the mission of the school, do a check of real-world pressing issues, and conduct a thorough and transparent process that identifies the challenges and considers what is needed to move the school forward. But of course things don’t always go according to plan. Resiliency and the ability to adapt to the inevitable curves that arise in virtually every search are essential, and perhaps the area where our firm can provide the greatest value.

The goals of the session are:

  • Discussing the timing of the search and considering a typical search calendar.
  • Analyzing the multiple ways in which communication needs to be the key area of focus.
  • Describing the steps that can be taken to create a process that is inclusive, building stakeholder trust and maximizing the likelihood of the new head’s success.

The take-aways the presenters hope for the attendees are:

  • Recognizing that there are productive and positive models for conducting a search that will help ensure a successful outcome.
  • Using case studies to better understand specifically how effective communications and finely tuned timelines can best serve the school.
  • Understanding that flexibility and openness to new kinds of leaders will lead to a richer and more diverse candidate pool.

We are excited that Bob, Burke, and Bruce have been chosen to present at the NAIS Annual Conference and hope you will join them for a session we promise will be worthwhile.

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