An independent school business officer would be the first to tell you that no one has all the answers. Chairs of the NBOA Board of Directors have had extensive experience field in the field, however, so that’s why Net Assets asked them to share some nuggets of wisdom. Board Chairs are listed with the current role, as they may have moved schools during their career.
While most school CFOs have never been a teacher, the best CFOs are educators. Our first task is to ensure that the school community understands that we have the same goal as the teachers, to provide the best education possible to each child at our school. We simply have a different set of tools with which to meet the mission. If the school community — parents, administrators, teachers and board members — understand and accept that one principle, then pursuing the following responsibility is easier.
As educators, CFOs must help the school community understand how the strategic and operational advice we offer directly supports the school's ability to meet its mission today and 10 years from today. All of our day-to-day work flows from this idea.
Terry Armstrong (1998–2007)
Of course, you need the technical skills to succeed. Beyond that, become familiar with the staff and faculty. Go to lunch with them, meet with them, help them if they need it.
Get to know the chair of the finance committee and any other committees you need to work with.
I found myself touring construction sites every week, which meant that I had to get familiar with the plans. I saved the school and contractors by noticing problems, such as a skylight in a dark room. And it was fun for me.
You must be available and you must be a part of the school, really a part.
Jim Kirkpatrick (2007–2009)
Be true to yourself, and be authentic. Don't change yourself for a school. Go find one that likes you just the way that you are.
Dallas Joseph (2011–2013)
Vice President of Finance and Operations, Baylor School
Take the time to get to know the faculty and students. Sponsor a club, attend athletic events and/or student performances.
It’s important to be part of the community. It will serve you well.
Take your vacations. Neglecting yourself will come back to bite you when you’re trying to think clearly and problem solve complicated issues. Nobody does it well when they are tired!
Work hard to build a strong relationship with both your head of school and board treasurer.
Hire outside professionals to manage large projects, construction or tech. It can save you a lot of time, money and aggravation.
Take time to meet other local school administrators and be a mentor to those who are new to the job. It will strengthen your reputation, help them be successful and continue a legacy of collegiality within our ranks.
Kate Lindsey (2009–2011)
Chairman and CEO, Alpha Corporation
At the end of the day, everything in life is about relationships. Make sure you are open to hearing from other people and maintaining good relationships because you never know who you’re going to work with and who you’ll learn from in the future.
Be willing to take risks and try new things. Do not be afraid to fail. We learn from failure.
Read and listen to podcasts outside of your expertise. Always seek new ideas and ways of understanding.
Frank Aloise (2013–15)
CFO, Springside-Chestnut Hill School
Do your best to learn the business thoroughly. Listen to and observe faculty and staff and participate in or provide leadership to task forces and work groups addressing issues outside your natural areas of responsibility. Doing so will help ensure you are a strategic business partner focused on their wants and needs while ensuring effective and efficient practices across the school. Look for prudent ways to say “yes.”
Take risks, believe in yourself and push beyond your comfort zone. Doing so provides the best opportunities for professional and personal growth.
Melissa Orth (2015–2017)
President and CEO, The Legacy Senior Communities
Get involved in the school community outside of your own school — whether that be your local or regional association, NBOA or a regular conference call with some of your colleagues. These connections will enrich not only your job and working life, but you personally.
Be the trusted partner you would like others to be. This is critical for your head of school, but also your other colleagues. This means finding ways to say yes, even when you want to say no. Partner to find solutions and make the most of the resources you have, and try using the phrase “What if we…” as often as possible.
Tracey Fudge (2017–2019)
CFO/COO, Holton Arms School
Hire great people, give them as much responsibility as they can handle and then stay out of their way unless you are asked to help, and check in with them regularly.
Wheresoever your school is located, get involved in the local community. It will be good for the school, the local community and you!
Always keep the interests and the betterment of the school, and the students and families you are serving, at the center of any discussions or decisions. Always ask, will this make us a better school?
Make sure you do everything you can to involve ALL employees in as many things as possible. Schools always want to be mindful to take all possible steps to minimize the differences between faculty and other employees.
Chuck McCullagh (2019-2021)
CFO, Williston Northampton School
It’s so important to continually grow your skill set and your peer network. The best way to up-skill is simply by doing and learning from mistakes. Analyze your failures to prevent them from happening again. This is what characterizes progress and growth in your personal development.
Another way to learn is by talking with peers or experts who can advise you on best practices and what to avoid — this was very helpful to me, as a new CFO and continues to be. The NBOA members and business partners are exceptional go-to resources.
Rose Neubert (2021-23)
CFO/COO, Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart
Bonus Tips from NBOA's Next Board Chair
Join NBOA! It took me several years to realize what I was missing, and joining earlier would have made my transition from a corporate for-profit role much easier.
Get involved in the school in some way outside of your primary role. Connection to students and other employees is invaluable, you get a chance to see why we do what we do, and there’s ground level intelligence to be found.
Build a local and national network of peers. Some of the people I met at my very first Annual Meeting form the core of my network today and have helped me through any number of situations. Local peers are a great asset, but being able to contact someone outside of your competitive market can be hugely beneficial in some situations.
You don’t have to create/start everything from scratch. Someone has most likely faced something similar in the past and there are resources available to you. The peer network and unlimited resources at NBOA are a reliable go-to.
Duncan Booth (2023–25)
Chief of Staff, The St. Paul's Schools