The following excerpt comes from "Celebrate! 25 Years of NBOA," the story of how NBOA came to be, how it’s evolved over 25 years, and where it is going in the next 25 years. Read the previous excerpt, "Celebrate! 25 Years of NBOA: Elevating the Role."
Though NBOA has had schools outside the U.S. in its membership from very early days, the mid-2010s marked a period of growth for the organization’s international member base.
Born and raised in Thailand, Vipada Musick was living in Michigan in 1990 when she discovered an opening for a controller/chief accountant at NIST International School (NIST), a K-12 British international school in Bangkok. She was visiting Thailand at the time, and the school was conveniently down the road from her family home. She applied for and accepted her first position in independent schools. A newly established international school, NIST was experiencing serious financial problems and she was asked to be the CFO. She stayed there for nine years and left the school in excellent shape. NIST had over 1000 students from 44 countries.
Now CFO at Evergreen School in Silver Spring, Maryland, Musick looks back fondly at her three years at her first school, during which she reorganized the business office and implemented a computerized accounting system. She did the same work at another international school before returning to the U.S.
A Will Hancock Unsung Hero Award recipient in 2021, she’s written for Net Assets about her experience as a business officer of color in her independent school and about staying connected to Thailand while working in the U.S.
Around the same time Musick traveled east to west, Marcus Shuflin was traveling in the opposite direction, from Caracas, Venezuela, to Selangor, Malaysia. In Caracas, Shuflin contended with highly fluctuating exchange rates and their effects on budgets; most international schools have significant expenses in both their local and international currencies. But his biggest concern was with finding creative ways to market his diverse school and grow enrollment: “One of the common challenges international schools face is having a highly mobile population; it is not uncommon for a large percentage (20-30%) of students to withdraw each year due to relocation out of the country.” Shuflin created a campaign focused on diplomats working at embassies in the city.
Now in the business officer role at Oasis International School (OIS) — Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, Shuflin still thinks about enrollment, this time in a post-COVID environment, where many students living outside the country were unable to travel due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. He also manages — and interacts with — a diverse mix of English and non-English language speakers, which can create challenges when trying to communicate with parents and support staff.
To face these challenges, Shuflin turned to professional development from NBOA in the form of webinars, online discussions, job description templates and policy updates. In particular, NBOA’s book “‘By The Numbers and Beyond’ [now updated and available as “The Business of Independent Schools”] had a profound impact on my thinking in regard to the budgeting process,” added Shuflin. At his current school, Shuflin is in the process of developing a collaborative and zero-based budgeting process that aligns the budget with mission. This past year, he was able to share what he has learned when OIS hosted a conference for business officers at international schools.
Reckoning with the Great Recession
As NBOA’s next era opened up, schools were wrestling with the aftermath of the Great Recession. Sharing resources, experiences and solutions remained at the core of business officers’ success.
In 2012, Joe Sharp, now chief financial and operating officer at Jewish Leadership Academy, moved his family from Illinois to Florida for a job offer at a Jewish day school in Boca Raton. The school was rightsizing, and Sharp was tasked with taking over the responsibilities of two of his predecessors. He was the only person in the business office at the time.
“While that first year was professionally successful, it was incredibly lonely. Teachers have colleagues to talk and collaborate with [on campus], but when you’re dealing with stuff on the HR side and families’ finances, there are few people you can actually talk to within your school. I felt that I was stranded on my own island.”
At the time, Sharp’s top priorities were standardizing business procedures and, most importantly, keeping the doors of the school open following recession-related enrollment and financial challenges. The landscape for Jewish day schools was much different 10 years ago, he said: “Most schools back then just didn’t have a lot to work with. There was a certain feeling among schools like, we may be sacrificing a lot and giving financial aid that we don’t have the funds for, but we’ll figure it out down the line. G-d will provide. But there’s been a real push from the inside to professionalize business office functions. The fact that we’ve realized that we needed professional development geared toward business officers in Jewish schools is a big step.”
One day, a business officer at a neighboring Jewish day school forwarded Sharp an NBOA Connect email digest, which had a thread on SIS systems. That was Sharp’s first exposure to NBOA and within weeks, his school joined. Sharp recalled the first moment attending an NBOA Annual Meeting: “I distinctly remember sitting around a table with three people – one from Georgia, one from an online academy, the other from a school in Germany – and we somehow talked for four hours without realizing how much time had passed. Coming from a Jewish day school, I came into the Annual Meeting with this assumption that I wouldn’t have anything in common with the other attendees. And yet I found myself spending hours, opening myself up and being vulnerable, with business officers from four entirely different schools and geographic areas. It was incredible.”
Sharp has given back as an NBOA Connect Ambassador and in countless responses to fellow members on the platform as well as by serving on the Program Selection Committee, which helps select content for the fiscal year, including the NBOA Annual Meeting, webinars and Net Assets articles.
From BOI to the Board of Directors
In April 2014, Alex Heiberger, now chief financial and operations officer at The Madeira School, started his first role in an independent school. Just weeks into that role, he attended the 2014 Business Officers Institute at the Webb school in Claremont, California.
“It was the best professional development curriculum I’ve ever been through in my life,” said Heiberger. “I came out of BOI with a firm grip on what the responsibilities would be, with a network of individuals in a similar position to myself that I could get to know and lean on as we grew together in the industry. It also introduced me to the NBOA team, and they remain close contacts to this day.”
Heiberger is one of many to start his leadership trajectory at BOI. Taryn Clatanoff, vice president of finance at Skutt Catholic High School, is another; she started her career in independent schools around the same time as Heiberger and attended the 2017 BOI in Providence, Rhode Island.
For he and Clatanoff, BOI was just the starting block. When NBOA launched the NBOA Leadership Academy in 2020, Clatanoff was among the first to throw her hat into the ring. She has also served on the Net Assets Editorial Advisory Committee and Business Officers Council. In 2018, Clatanoff attended the North American Conference on the Business Office (NACOBO) in Las Vegas, where “everything clicked into place,” she said. “If BOI is about capacity-building, then NACOBO is all about idea-sharing and innovation,” she said. “I don’t even know how to put [my experience] into words. There is something magical about having a bunch of seasoned business officers in one room to bounce ideas off of. Everyone there leaned into the idea that there has got to be a better way of doing things.”
Meanwhile, Heiberger went on to join the NBOA Board of Directors in 2018 and receive the Will J. Hancock Unsung Hero Award in 2021. “In the business office community, we tend to be spread pretty thin, and you don’t have time to necessarily reflect and celebrate all that we get done,” he said. “Having a colleague or a series of colleagues take time to nominate you for an NBOA award is very touching and rewarding. It’s not the reason we do these jobs, but is certainly uplifting.”
The next year, Heiberger celebrated when his colleague Scott Cohen was an inaugural recipient of the NBOA Professional Achievement Award, which was launched in 2021 to recognize excellence in business office staff that are not the chief business officer. Heiberger now sits on the NBOA Awards Selection Committee. “It’s all come full circle!” he said.