CEO Notebook

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO
Twitter: @shieldsNBOA

Unleashing the Exceptional

From Net Assets NOW, April 11, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

Every once in a while, someone holds a mirror to your face and asks the simple question, "Why?" That's the experience I had last week in the presence of Yong Zhao during a visit to St. Andrew's Schools in Honolulu, where I had gone for NBOA's Business Office NOW and a meeting of the Hawai'i Association of Independent Schools.

St. Andrew's, nestled on one square block in the heart of downtown Honolulu, is a small but powerful single-sex school (all girls preK-12 and all boys K-5) that possesses an incredibly rich 150-year history. It provided an ideal backdrop for the big thinking I was privy to via a unique opportunity to sit in on a conversation not only with Zhao, who holds a distinguished professorship at the School of Education of the University of Kansas, but also with the incredibly thoughtful and innovative leadership team at St. Andrew's.

Clearly, a school that hosts someone as provocative as Zhao is not satisfied with the status quo. Appropriately, when it comes to independent schools, the status quo is Zhao's favorite target. His topic: the future of independent schools. His message: the future is now, and "simple improvement" is not nearly enough.

Zhao's passion for education is contagious. In order to secure a world that is "more peaceful and prosperous," he believes it is our duty and responsibility to tap each student's greatness. He believes that everyone is "above average" and reminds us why we entered the education business in the first place: to unleash our students' talents. The problem is that modern education as we know it — an outcome of the industrial age — was designed to teach to the average. "The idea that a student goes to school for 12 years to get a high score on the SAT is sad," said Zhao. I agree.

Zhao calls for schools to transform themselves into incubators of innovation and creativity. He defines creativity as a disruptive process that, "once unleashed, the only remedy is more creativity." Said another way, a school that is not disrupting its educational programs and design is not unleashing its students' exceptionalness. His solution is "innovation by invitation, not imposition." Bring individuals along who want to be part of the change, and allow others to catch up in their own time. If independent schools want to be the leaders in preK-12 education, Zhao said, our investments in professional development must support creative disruption at all levels — including leadership, financial and educational.

I love visiting schools, and I'm so grateful to St. Andrew's CFO Mike Curtis and Head of School Ruth Fletcher for the opportunity. What I anticipated to be merely a great school visit became an exceptional one. The day was an important reminder that the future is now, and independent schools are ideally positioned to unlock the passion and greatness of each and every student. We must only choose to do so. I hope we do.

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
President and CEO

Jeff has been NBOA's president and CEO since March 2010. Prior to joining NBOA, he spent almost 10 years at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), serving most recently as senior vice president and chief planning officer. An active member of the American Society of Association Executives, Jeff earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation in 2002 and was selected as an ASAE Fellow in 2008. He currently serves as a trustee for One Schoolhouse and Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC.

Business Office NOW: Human Resources

Business Office NOW

If you're in the Dallas area, join your regional colleagues at NBOA's Business Office NOW: Human Resources, May 4 at Greenhill School. This program gives business officers who have responsibility for human resources the latest and most relevant information for your role in the independent school business office, through an affordable and accessible one-day workshop.

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