Mobilizing Your School with Data

If you feel like you’re drowning in school data, remember: metrics aren’t strategy — and there are tools to help you make the most of it.

May 23, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

An abundance of data flows into independent schools these days — not only through the SIS but also through accounting systems, tuition and financial aid processing, school surveys and much more. Thus, more often than not school leaders’ top challenge when it comes to data isn’t how to acquire it but rather how to translate and apply it to top-level decision-making.

Schools are not alone. The article “How To Avoid Data Paralysis” in Associations NOW, which provides daily intelligence to association leaders, unpacked a new report from Oracle on executive decision-making. The survey found that 70% of organizational leaders say they are so overwhelmed with data, they’d prefer robots to make decisions for them. And while the opportunity for data-informed decisions is greater than ever, 21% of organizational leaders said they rely solely on gut instincts.

The survey found that 70% of organizational leaders say they are so overwhelmed with data, they’d prefer robots to make decisions for them. 

I would urge school leaders to resist the impulse to throw up their hands when it comes to making sense of the data at their fingertips. For one, you are not doing it alone. Business officers may typically be more adept at handling data, but these days, leaders in every area of school operations — including enrollment, development, human resources, technology, auxiliary programs and facilities — not to mention leaders on the academic side of the house — likely have their own metrics to bring to the table. The responsibility to become more data-informed falls on every leader within the school community.

Secondly, it’s helpful to remember that the data brought to the table should inform strategy, not dictate it, as the article points out. Your school’s strategic plan can guide understanding of what metrics are worthy of attention. At NBOA, for example, we’ve developed KPIs to track our progress annually in the 2022-27 Strategic Framework. (Look out for a short member survey in early June, which is part of this effort.)

Finally, NBOA member schools in particular have custom-built tools in our custom-built data platform, BIIS, to help leaders make sense of financial and operational data so that the most important numbers rise to the top when it comes to top-level decision-making. The NBOA Financial Dashboard includes 12 key data points that will help business officers, heads of schools and boards of trustees among others identify, understand and monitor the financial indicators that have the greatest impact on an independent school's financial health. The NBOA Financial Sustainability Heat Map, released earlier this year, is a color-coded visualization of your school’s movement toward or away from financial goals. And the Composite Financial Index (CFI) is a sophisticated tool designed to help you think strategically about your school's overall financial health and communicate succinctly about it with school leaders. For NBOA schools that submitted data this past fall in the DASL/BIIS Financial Operations collection effort, remember these tools and others are available to you.

Not every field, especially those as niche as independent school finance and operations, has such specially designed tools to distill the data and make it digestible for top leadership decisions. NBOA developed these resources because the importance of clear, concise and quality data to support strong leadership. I encourage you to explore BIIS and its related tools if you’ve not already done so and harness the data at your fingertips. Data-informed decisions are within reach, and will help ensure your school community can deliver on its mission for decades to come. The community is counting on you — not on the robots — to get the job done.

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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