While NBOA does not have demographic information about LBGTQ+ business office staff members, we do know that there are some particular aspects of the experience that members seek to share. Here are just a few, which are not representative — as each individual’s experience is unique — but do shed a light on one way our business office colleagues come from different backgrounds. This article will appear in the July/August 2022 issue of Net Assets, but we are publishing it early online to coincide with Pride month.
As an out gay leader in higher education, and now at an independent school, I have mostly had positive career experiences at private, for-profit and faith-based schools. It is important to me to know that I am judged by the quality of my work and contributions, irrelevant of my identity as a gay man. The impact that I can have as an out gay CFO, however, is not lost on me.
At Boston College High School, I am fortunate to work with an incredibly talented board, president and cabinet leadership team. Right from my interview process, I was open and appreciated the efforts made to ensure that I knew I would be welcomed on campus. We are now forging ahead with a new strategic plan and the construction of a major wellness and fitness building that is supported by a recently announced $49 million gift. The openness and authenticity of the leadership team members enables us to bring our full selves to the table and collaborate to bring such a transformational campus project to fruition. The credit for establishing and maintaining this safe and open environment starts with the tone set by the president and the board.
Regardless of our professional role, we are not always aware of the impact we have on the culture of our organization or the lives of the individuals within it.
Regardless of our professional role, we are not always aware of the impact we have on the culture of our organization or the lives of the individuals within it. In my previous role as a college CFO, it wasn’t until I had left that I truly realized this. A former student approached me to share how inspired he was by watching my daily interactions on campus as an out CFO. I tend to focus on my accomplishments throughout my career in terms of organizational change or institutional growth in which I led or participated. But to this student, simply being visible on campus with my partner and son was inspiring and motivating, and I had no idea. By being our authentic selves, openly and unapologetically, we send a message and create an environment that is welcoming and supportive to all. Seeing an out leader sends a clear message about the values and priorities of the organization.
I believe these kinds of pieces that Net Assets is publishing on all the different aspects of leadership within independent schools is an important part of the conversation that leads us to create spaces and organizations that truly achieve their full potential when our members are able to bring their whole selves to campus.
Senior Vice President for Administration, Finance and Strategic Planning
Boston College High School
A Waterfall Effect
Both a high and low point of being trans within my school is simply being present and being a person that our students see. I started at A Step Up Academy at the beginning of my medical transition. It was tough for some people to get my pronouns right, but it was also great to see that the kids were usually very quick to catch on and support me. They were just like, “Yeah, this is what we should do. This is how people are.”
It’s also good for staff to see colleagues who are various flavors of LGBTQ+ because they may never have known an LGBTQ+ person who is open about it. And kids can see someone they can look up to, as they think about their own identities as they grow up; they will know someone who has been successful and respected and heard as adult in the workplace. A very important aspect of everything I do is making sure kids can grow up and feel loved and valued.
People who work in schools are there because they want to help kids to grow to be the best people they can be, so they are really trying, even if we do not get it perfect all the time. Schools are more social places than other organizations, such as a manufacturing business, where you’re there to build something and get it done and shipped out. So in schools there is more space to be unkind, but there is also more space for learning how to be kind.
Our student population has autism, so it takes some students a bit longer to grasp certain concepts, but once they get it, it’s there. So sometimes students would mix up a pronoun, and I would say, “I go by ‘he’ and ‘him,’ because I’m a boy.” And then I would hear an adult use an incorrect pronoun, and the student would pipe up and say, “Ev is a boy.” I think it’s great that kids are ready to stand up for others, even adults.
People who work in schools are there because they want to help kids to grow to be the best people they can be, so they are really trying, even if we do not get it perfect all the time.
Business officers are the changemakers in organizations. Basically everything that happens in a school goes through the business office. So there’s a lot of opportunity to see what kinds of changes need to be made. At the same time, these conversations are a lot of work. Especially those of us who come from a marginalized community, we may feel like we have to be the leader and do the work or no one else will. It’s important so the kids coming after us don’t have as hard a job.
My biggest recommendation to manage the load is to develop relationships with other school leaders and other staff in your school who are interested in DEI work. You can’t do it all by yourself. You can delegate and exchange ideas. More people want to learn about DEI initiatives than you think. They may be worried they’re starting too far back or they’re afraid they’ll do something wrong. If you start a committee, say, “Come with the knowledge you have and then we’ll get a lot farther together.”
There is a positive trickledown effect with DEI efforts. I started at my school because it was a school for kids on the autism spectrum. I’m on the autism spectrum. I figured, if I work here, they will be accepting of who I am as a person, fundamentally. I was comfortable and understood people respected me, so I felt safe to disclose other aspects of my identity. That was a result of having an open community in general. When you show you’re accepting of people’s differences, people are more likely to feel comfortable sharing those differences, and that’s where we get the opportunity to learn.
Ev Smith (They/He)
Assistant Director of Business Operations and Diversity and Equity Specialist
A Step Up Academy
Jenkintown and Abington, Pennsylvania
A Place of Mutual Respect
As an LGBTQ+ woman and member of Pine Crest School’s senior administrative/leadership team, I am personally and professionally driven to do whatever I can to increase the sense of belonging experienced by students, faculty, staff and administrators throughout our schools. From the classroom to the boardroom, I believe that learning and growth are best achieved when many voices contribute to the conversation and when our stakeholders’ unique identities, backgrounds and experiences serve as funds of knowledge within our communities. Educators and business officers have a shared responsibility to maintain safe, trusting and mutually-respectful working and learning spaces where people feel welcome to share ideas, take risks, embrace differences, and engage in open dialogue with one another.
My ongoing service as a member of Pine Crest School’s DEI Committee has been a high point in my career. Knowing that I am part of a community where I can bring my authentic self to work each day and help promote inclusive, meaningful exchanges in and out of the classroom fills me with an enormous sense of purpose, gratitude and appreciation.
Knowing that I am part of a community where I can bring my authentic self to work each day and help promote inclusive, meaningful exchanges in and out of the classroom fills me with an enormous sense of purpose, gratitude and appreciation.
As our country strives to be a place where all members of the LGBTQ+ community enjoy acceptance and fair treatment, independent schools play a critical role in teaching tolerance and shaping the lives of a future generation of leaders. Together, we must continue to dedicate our energy toward upholding and embedding the core values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in all we do. With this sense of duty firmly rooted in my heart and mind, I am motivated to do my best to serve as a positive role model in my school community and to promote learning, growth and understanding one conversation at a time.
Whitney Walters-Sachs, Ed.D., J.D.
Vice President of School & Legal Affairs
Pine Crest School
Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, Florida