In our free monthly “If Not Now?” gathering, John Gulla and I asked attendees (mostly independent school folks for this event) to discuss and then post the biggest problem that needs solving at their school. It was no surprise that financial sustainability came in at Number 1; we have known for decades that the independent school financial model is not only unsustainable for most schools, but that the rate of increase in this fragility has accelerated in the last decade.
What WAS a surprise, at least to me, is that with more than 120 school leaders attending, ALL of the comments fell into just six “buckets”, at least the way I sorted them. Here they are, ranked by the number of mentions in each category:
Financial sustainability and enrollment 34%
Mission and differentiated value proposition 17%
Growth culture and innovation 15%
Diversity, equity, and inclusion 13%
Finding, hiring, and supporting talent 12%
Forward-leaning learning systems 10%
This quick pulse check reenforces more extensive data collection across independent schools that I published in Independent School Magazine in 2018 but the spread on the target is getting even tighter. There is not a lot of mystery about where we should be focusing our attentions. The good news is that, even with respect to the financial model, we know how to solve these problems if we have the will.
Two more takeaways:
- Two years ago, changes to pedagogy and the learning experience was one of the top two areas of focus; it appears that more schools now have a handle on where they want to go with the learning experience, even if they are having a hard time getting there. DEI, however, was either not on this list or it was there in a very generic way. DEI and social justice are now right at the top of our concerns, and rightly so; the question is whether this time we will make up for a tragic lack of progress in the past.
- Many school leaders understand the connection between finding a differentiated value proposition (as opposed to a “vanilla” mission statement), and building both the culture and systems to deliver that value. Several years ago, that understanding was, frankly rare amongst most independent school leaders.
Join us for the next “If Not Now?” session on February 9, when Supt. Ken Wallace from near Chicago will blow your mind with what they are doing with community partnerships, interest based learning, and helping students map their post secondary options. If you are not already registered, just click here; it is free!