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Coming Around Again

2024 Ken White Distinguished Business Officer on construction queries, long-term teaching and business officer generosity.

May 20, 2024  |  By Cecily Garber, NBOA

From the May-June 2024 Net Assets Magazine.

goldfischer group photo final

Feature image: NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields (far left) and NBOA Board Chair Duncan Booth (far right) flank NBOA Award recipients Sam Goldfischer, Suzanne Bogdan and Patrick Meehan. Meehan represented LaSalle Academy and the Rhode Island Hydro Power Alliance Members.

Sam Goldfischer has been the director of business and finance at Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey, for more than 32 years. His accomplishments at the school include campus planning and oversight of a dozen major construction projects, all while keeping Newark Academy debt-free. Goldfischer served two terms on the NBOA Board of Directors (2009-2015) and later on the Business Officer Institute faculty (2018). He has served on many other boards, and is an active member of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), currently serving on the NJAIS Audit and NJAIS Accreditation Committees, as well as several task forces. Cherished as a mentor by newer and experienced colleagues alike, he is guided by the adage, “When one teaches, two learn.”

Net Assets: You’re known as a great resource to other business officers, someone that others can go to for advice and insight. When you were starting out in an independent school, transitioning as so many folks do from a different industry, did you have a go-to business officer or resource to help you?

Goldfischer: I did, and it was more than one person. The finance directors at New Jersey independent schools are very collegial. We bounce ideas off each other. We commiserate with each other. So it’s more than one person. A few stand out: Rick Trudel, who was at Far Hills Country Day School, Cindy Stadulis, who at the time was at Princeton Day School, as well as Genevieve Madigan, who at the time was at The Gow School.

When I got to Newark Academy, we were in the middle of a construction project, and I had never had anything to do with construction before, so I sought out colleagues who had done construction jobs, and they were very helpful. I’ve also been blessed with people on my board who are very knowledgeable and caring about the school, so they gave good advice as well.

Here’s a funny story. When I first got here, a board officer wanted to test me. One day he asked me to walk outside with him, and he showed me the cracks in the tennis courts. He said, “You need to get these fixed.” I said, “Okay, just write me a check. I’m happy to do it.” But he also gave me sound advice. He said, “You can’t sit in your office all the time. At least once a week, twice a week, you should walk around the campus, see what’s going on, poke your head in classrooms.”

Net Assets: I understand you’ve taken that advice to heart and in fact taken on a lot of teaching. Can you tell us why you did it and the impact it had?

Goldfischer: Going into the classroom all those years was actually the best part of my day. The kids, they’re very bright. You allow them the space to express themselves, and teach them how to think, not what to think. The weirdest time was when I had my daughter in my class!

Before coming to the school, when I was in banking, I taught an evening course for adults. At Newark, for about 18 years, I taught a senior-level elective series. One of the courses was personal finance. In fact, some adults in school wanted to take the course. I started teaching it because the faculty member assigned to it became ill, and the head of school at the time, Dr. Strand, knew economics was my minor and asked if I’d like to teach. I was flabbergasted. I really had to sit down and study. I had fun with the kids, 12, 14, 15 kids in the class. You develop a relationship with them.

 I have family members who are survivors of the Holocaust, so that was something near and dear to me. I taught the course and every year took the students to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Then came winter term. At that time, we were on trimesters. The faculty member was not going to be returning. Dr. Strand said, “How would you like to teach his winter course, which is Nazism?” I said, “Okay, but we have to change the title. We don’t teach Nazism at Newark Academy.” I have family members who are survivors of the Holocaust, so that was something near and dear to me. I taught the course and every year took the students to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. We left at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning and came home at night. Students always wondered why we wouldn’t go for an overnight, and I said, “There’s no way I’m taking a group of seniors on an overnight.”

When the spring term came that first year of teaching, Dr. Strand said, “How would you like to teach science of the environment?” I finally said no.

Former students come to me and say that either the economics or the Holocaust studies class affected their lives. Winning this award is a very humbling experience, and the only thing I can equate it to is when you have a student that comes back to you many years later, and says, “I’ve learned something from you.” Some of my former students who have said this are now on the board of trustees. That’s when you know that you reached somebody. It’s very professionally satisfying.

I’m the faculty liaison for the student endowment committee. We had a donor who gave us a hundred thousand dollars in the late ‘90s with the caveat that the fund be run exclusively by students. These kids do their research, they do presentations if they want to switch which funds we’re in, and every spring they present to the board’s finance committee what they’ve done during the year. A number of them have ended up with internships as a result. It’s been a great ride.

Sam Goldfischer with Students in Poland

Sam Goldfischer with students in Poland.

Net Assets: Getting back to more traditional business office roles, you’ve managed many construction projects over the years. Do any stand out to you?

Goldfischer: When I first arrived at Newark, we were in the middle of building our fine arts center. The steel was already in the ground. My predecessor had not lasted long, and I had to pick up the pieces. I was being asked to make decisions I probably had no right to make being so new to the school. That was a real learning experience.

Later, when I was on the faculty of the NBOA Business Officer Institute in the summer of 2017, we’d just finished a new middle school building, which came in under budget and ahead of schedule, in April. Then June came around and three days after graduation, a three-inch pipe broke and flooded the entire first floor. We had to rip out the walls from the floor, two feet up wall, toss the furniture, all while BOI was going on. Between sessions, I was constantly on the phone with insurance agents, and learned a whole lot about the difference between first-party claims and third-party claims. Luckily the plumbing subcontractor took responsibility, and we had a third-party claim; the claim did not go on us.

Net Assets: You’re known for getting your audit in early. Why?

Goldfischer: We are the first to audit in the state, from what I understand. Auditors usually come in the second week in July, so everything is in place before that. Obviously, we’re still waiting for a couple of statements, which we get during the audit, during the field work.

My predecessor in the business office at Newark had not done an audit the year he was there. He had all kinds of excuses. I never found anything nefarious, but I had to reconstruct the books and records for the prior year and six months. I drew the analogy to my wife that it was like you have to help somebody with a lot of hair that is all tangled, and you have to untangle it one strand at a time.

So the first year when I got here, we instituted a board policy that the draft of the financials have to be presented to the finance committee at their first meeting in September. Everything has to be buttoned up by then. As a matter of fact, it’s also a standard in the New Jersey Association Independent School’s (NJAIS) accreditation process, to have an audit within 180 days of the close of the year. Also, I wanted my vacation in the summer, so we got the audit done by August.

When you visit a school, you see the whole picture, how people interact with each other. It’s not just number crunching

Net Assets: You’ve seen it all in terms of accreditation — you have served on accreditation teams and on the NJAIS accreditation committee, which reviews materials from accrediting teams. What have you learned from the many schools you’ve visited and seen through reports?

Goldfischer: When you visit a school, you see the whole picture, how people interact with each other. It’s not just number crunching. And on the accreditation committee, you get to see statements from a wide variety of schools, schools that are very healthy and schools that unfortunately are not doing so well. I encourage people to go on accreditation visits. It’s an intense three days, but I’ve done different types of schools, Montessori schools, religious schools, and I always have a takeaway. I think, maybe we could bring that to my school.

Net Assets: I understand your business office team is long-standing.

Goldfischer: Yes, the work we do is a real team effort, and my staff has been with me a long time. The newest person in my office has been with me 15 years. Sarah Guelich is the assistant director of business and finance, and four years ago she took the role of director of HR as well. As a matter of fact, I had the honor of presenting her with the NBOA Professional Achievement Award in December. Then I have Sandy Marano, who’s my accounts receivable bookkeeper and has been here 27 years. Eileen Petrillo does accounts payable and Brian Stephenson, our director of operations, reports to me as well.

goldfischer isreal

Sam Goldfischer with friends in Haifa, Israel. .

Net Assets: Do you have any reflections on 30 years in the business office that you want to add?

Goldfischer: One day sometime in the spring of 2020, while the school was operating remotely during the pandemic, I was driving up to campus to get some things that I needed to work from home. And I reflected on how the school had changed and grown in the nearly 30 years that I had been here. And I felt that I’d contributed — I hope I've contributed, both within the school and without — and it’s just a very satisfying experience, to have done that. 


Cecily Garber

Cecily Garber, Ph.D.

Associate Vice President, Communications and Member Relations


Arlington, VA

Cecily Garber is the editor of NBOA's Net Assets magazine, and directs NBOA's publication efforts, which includes books, reports and industry guidance. She also oversees the communications and member relations team, which is responsible for all membership, marketing and communications efforts. 


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