“I have high hopes for the industry,” said Alex Heiberger, chief financial and operations officer at The Madeira School. “I think every generation believes they lived through tough times, and there’s probably some truth to that. Today more than ever, it’s a rough landscape from a business standpoint. And that’s where NBOA comes in — by providing educational materials and opportunities so that we can be competent in our roles and do better as an industry.”
So what does the future of independent school education look like?
Meeta Nosrati, CFO at Old Trail School, sees independent schools as a catalyst for change on a much larger scale. “In envisioning the future, I’m not only thinking about the independent school industry – but really the whole early childhood through 12th grade industry, public or private,” she said. “If you look at public schools today, you can see they are starting to adapt many of the pedagogical practices independent schools championed 25 years ago. I expect that trend to continue, with other schools and organizations looking to independent schools as models for mission-focused educational institutions and practitioners of financial fitness.”
Marcus Shuflin, business officer role at Oasis International School (OIS) — Kuala Lumpur, shared a hope for a more robust, global influence: “As the middle class in many countries increases, the desire for English-medium instruction has tended to increase as well, fueling demand for international education. Having students, parents and staff from so many countries, cultures and backgrounds provides a rich multicultural environment, and especially for highly mobile expatriates, the international school can often be the center of community life for the whole family.” There may also be more opportunities for collaboration among U.S.-based schools with schools based in other countries around the world to provide educational opportunities going both ways.
Digital technologies present a significant opportunity for schools to improve and automate accounting and financial practices in the business office, said Deana Paradis, CFO at Louisville Collegiate School. “AI [artificial intelligence] may seem like just a buzzword these days. But I believe that emerging technologies have potential to transform the business office in very real ways, making our operations more efficient and user-friendly to families and staff.”
And for that to happen, “independent schools need to start talking to each other about the potential for this technology,” said Hoyle. He sees how schools might share online specialty courses across the country to not only enrich the experience, with students from different geographic regions and cultural experiences, but also to add new value proposition to the families. Likewise, he sees opportunities for business offices to collaborate and create consortiums around IT solutions.
“Online [education] allows schools to expand opportunities for students, providing the widest possible range of classes without the complexities of staffing, scheduling and space,” said Curt Brossman, controller at One Schoolhouse, which offers online courses for independent school students, as well as professional development opportunities for educators.
Brossman added that digital technology has the potential to bring about a more diverse, inclusive and equitable future: “My hope is that our schools continue to prioritize work around diversity, equity and accessibility to create and sustain a more equitable independent school community. Business officers have the opportunity to transform the field, as we are in a position to rethink the current independent school financial model and partner with academic leaders to transform the way school is done.”
And then there is the human element. “We need to be proud and bold in our storytelling. We are helping develop incredible citizens of the world at our schools,” said Nosrati. “However, in order to carry out our missions, we have to be financially viable. We have to be balancing our budget. In an industry that is challenging to stay relevant in, many of us are succeeding. Why not share those accomplishments and help to support other independent schools that are facing similar challenges?”
“My hope is that the future looks more connected,” added Paradis. “If you really tend to those relationships – whether that’s within your professional network, with colleagues or mentors – you’ll get so much in return.”
If the story of NBOA were to be boiled down to one word, it would probably be “Connection.” But it’s not just our story that matters – it starts and ends with the business officers who are making an impact at their schools every day. And their stories are going to shape the expectations, goals and dreams of the next generation of business office leaders.