As we enter a new lunar new year and begin to put some back-from-break concerns behind us, I have some good news that I hope will inspire us all to lead our schools with renewed vigor in the months ahead. The NBOA Awards Selection Committee has chosen three schools to be the 2022 recipients of the Jeffrey Shields Award for Innovation Excellence in School Business Operations. Now in its second year, the award recognizes schools from across the country that have demonstrated innovation in school business operations, through approaches, programs or practices that may serve as a model in our independent school community. This year’s recipients have thought differently about — and made a significant impact through — a wide range of business operations, from monetizing maker spaces to managing their endowment through a DEI lens to a new type of campus and program. We salute these leaders in innovation!
Engineered for Success
Bennett Day School developed a project-based learning lab that has helped generate non-tuition revenue and expand its PK-12 program. Bennett Labs is based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education, where students and teachers learn from one another. The program incorporates curriculum from Bennett Day School’s classrooms and also pilots learning methods and studies how different generations work together.
The school has partnered with organizations like Northwestern University and Tangible Play Inc. With the latter, Bennett Labs recently launched the Osmo Kaleidoscope App, an interactive mobile app designed to make kaleidoscope effects with everyday objects, natural materials and toys. At the onset of the pandemic, Bennett Day School launched Bennett Live, a free educational mobile app that hosts educational videos, project ideas, activities and resources for makers ages 3-18. It has now been used in more than a million homes worldwide.
All resources generated from Bennett Labs are available on Amazon, and the revenue from purchases is reinvested in the school’s operations. These efforts enable the school to generate resources that are sustainable, recurring and independent of capital campaigns or fundraising.
Smaller School, Bigger Footprint
The Downtown School
In 2018, Lakeside School launched The Downtown School, a micro-school serving grades 9-12 in the heart of Seattle. With a tuition about half that of many neighboring independent high schools and substantially less than that of Lakeside, The Downtown School offers a more financially and geographically accessible high school option for many families in the Seattle area. To keep costs so low, the school leases a 16,000 square foot former school building from the Diocese of Seattle. The micro-school also manages expenses by not offering sports or on-campus arts programs, and by centralizing business, communications and development functions on the original Lakeside campus.
The Downtown School has brought technology services in-house, which has resulted in significant cost savings. For example, building and maintaining the school’s website has saved tens of thousands of dollars. The micro-school has also partnered with Global Online Academy to provide additional classes beyond what their staffing allows. The Downtown School is projected to be at full enrollment capacity in 2023, and school leaders are considering opening more downtown locations.
Anti-Racism in Action
Equity & Inclusion Efforts
Miss Porter’s School has leveraged its large endowment and operating budget to challenge systemic racism. Inspired by the Yale Investments Office, the school began by engaging Offit Capital, an outsourced chief investment officer, to align their investment practices with the school’s mission to be an anti-racist institution. This means Miss Porter’s is actively working to resist and dismantle racial inequity in policy, practice and discourse. First steps included seeking Black fund managers and surveying the school’s 20 largest endowment managers on their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The survey gathered data on hiring practices, employee retention and promotion, organizational policies and other metrics. The board of trustees’ finance committee likewise issued a survey to the school’s largest business partners and revised the school’s RFP process for all contracts through the lens of the school’s anti-racism policy and practices.
Congratulations to these three recipients on the award and on their excellent work that serves as an example for all of us in the field. While our schools are called independent for good reason, all will thrive when we learn from each other and continue to grow and serve our communities in the innovative ways that serve our missions.
Follow President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.