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BIG IDEAS for Independent School Business Innovation

Teacher retention, shared services and an alternative school year calendar are just some of the areas that this year’s NBOA Leadership Academy cohorts researched.

May 9, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

The NBOA Leadership Academy is the fulfillment of a long-held vision of mine to bolster the essential work of our association. It is a marquee graduate-level program that supports business officers and business operations staff in their leadership roles, as they work to ensure a financially healthy future for their schools. This year’s program was a special one for me. My role shifted from serving as a faculty member to mentoring one of the program’s five cohorts.

Each group built lasting connections while working over the course of nine months to explore pressing issues in independent school business operations and to develop informed, research-based recommendations. The groups presented their findings at a deep dive session at the 2023 NBOA Annual Meeting and also developed executive reports.

NBOA volunteers often share that when they contribute as a speaker; author; council, committee or Board Member among other volunteer roles, they get back far more than they give. Such was the case for me as a mentor to Team Shields this year. I had the pleasure of engaging with five colleagues throughout their professional development journey and hear firsthand their challenges. Moreover, I heard directly about the opportunities they see for the future and the passion they share for independent schools. From time to time, I had the opportunity to share my perspectives and ideas that I’ve gleaned throughout my career, but more often I was enriched by their enthusiasm, willingness to step out of their comfort zone, and their generous collegiality to me and each other.

The 2022-23 cohort’s executive reports on top issues for the independent school business office are now available to all NBOA members. Here are quick summaries of the topics considered:

Extending the Life of Your Most Important Asset – Teachers

Independent schools as well as the larger system of K-12 education in the U.S. are facing the two-pronged challenge of both attracting and retaining high-quality teachers. Intensifying demand for teachers presents both a risk and an opportunity for schools. Through research as well as surveys at our schools we developed three top recommendations: improving school culture and work/life balance, demonstrating strong support from leadership, and offering alternative benefits and flexibility. Some of these recommendations are implemented at little or no cost, while others may have a budgetary impact. Read the report.

Examination of the Academic Year Calendar

Alternative school calendar models, like the year-round calendar, could differentiate an independent school from other school options and increase value proposition. While research on summer learning loss is inconclusive, research on standardized test scores shows that countries with longer academic calendars generally have higher scores. This report offers two financial models: one for a 210-day year-round academic year and another with a summer session. Both can be sustainable. Determining cultural fit and allowing time for change management would be crucial in any implementation of an alternative calendar. Read the report.

Reinforcing Culture & Community as a Low-Cost Employee Retention Tool

Independent schools are currently experiencing significant challenges retaining top-tier faculty and staff. While research shows teacher decline and burnout were experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic, employees’ post-pandemic expectations have led to further dissatisfaction. This report recommends school leaders focus on four areas: 1) employee recognition and empowerment, 2) improving mental health and physical well-being, 3) opportunities for deeper connections, and 4) communication and transparency. These will improve employee satisfaction and help employees build lasting connections with their schools and deep trust with leadership. Read the report.

National Business Officers Remote Work Job Board

The pandemic accelerated a transformation of the workplace that shifted how and where work is done across all industries. Due to the nature of the work of the business office, and the small staff relative to the larger organization, the business office is well-positioned to model how this shift could permanently translate in independent schools. A remote work job board would help individual schools attract and retain staff, has the potential to reduce budgetary pressures, and optimize human capital to better achieve the mission of the school.  .

Shared Services Solution for Independent School Business

Many business office functions are replicated across all schools, at a high cost, and may not directly impact mission or student experience. This report explores creating a model of shared services, or a Shared Solutions Service Center, whereby schools outsource core, transactional functions. This would allow schools to allocate budget more efficiently, gain access to best-in-class software and knowledgeable business officer personnel, and mitigate risk associated with employee turnover.  Read the report.

Find all the reports on the Leadership Academy webpage, where you will also find more information on the program and a link to nominate yourself or a colleague for the next cohort (open through May 15). In-person attendees of the 2023 NBOA Annual Meeting and on-demand pass holders can also watch the deep dive presentations on these issues at the NBOA Annual Meeting website through June 30.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve as a mentor to five bright leaders from diverse independent schools across the country this past school year. And I am hoping all of you are feeling as inspired in your leadership as we approach the conclusion of another school year!

Jeff Shields signature


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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