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Retiring with Impact: 3 Keys to a Smooth Transition

The former chief operations officer at Sandy Spring Friends School and new director of operations share how they’ve managed the handoff.

Jul 10, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

There’s no denying that we have entered the dog days of summer. For some independent school leaders, these months offer a quieter period to catch up on strategic projects that took a backseat during the school year. For others, the respite from student-filled hallways and crowded drop off lanes allows for evaluation of personal and professional goals. It’s a time when retiring business officers can reflect on their accomplishments and contributions to the school community while preparing for the next phase of life. These leaders may spend their final days on campus fine-tuning plans, mentoring their successors or working with their boards of trustees to ensure a smooth transition.

Laura Miyoshi is one such business officer, having just retired from her role as chief operations officer at Sandy Springs Friends School (SSFS), after 21 years at the Maryland day/boarding school for students preschool-grade 12. A recipient of this year’s NBOA Will Hancock Unsung Hero Award, Miyoshi dedicated her career to advancing environmental sustainability while constructing new facilities on the school’s 140-acre campus. Her efforts led SSFS to become the first WELL Gold certified high school in the U.S. The upper school’s Pen-y-Bren building was awarded the grand prize in excellence by Learning by Design magazine.

During her final week on campus, Miyoshi invited the Net Assets editorial staff to visit the school and learn how she and her colleagues are preparing for the transition of business office staff. Rebecca Kolowé is SSFS’s new director of operations, who spent a month working with Miyoshi before the latter signed off.

Here are three practical takeaways on how your school may achieve greater impact during the succession planning process.

Prioritize cultural fit and understanding.

When considering candidates for a role, a common pitfall is confusing likeability or “sameness” with culture fit. Each business office staff member brings unique qualities and strengths, and assessing cultural fit requires a thorough examination of a candidate’s leadership style and capacity for learning. Like Miyoshi, Kolowé never worked in an independent school before coming to SSFS. She made it clear in the interview process that she was invested in learning more about the school’s rich history and Quaker tradition. In her first month as a staff member, Kolowé has lent a hand in summer camp operations, a student art gallery and staff pride month festivities. “In a matter of weeks, she has [developed] a great understanding of who we are. The school is in great hands going forward,” said Miyoshi.

Establish a support network.

Not every outgoing business officer will have the opportunity to lead introductions among their successor and colleagues at the school. But for those with a transition overlap, I highly recommend taking the time to connect new school leaders with other staff, board members and key stakeholders. And for seasoned NBOA members, what better way to give back to the community than by connecting with incoming business officers online and in person through NBOA programming and your local network. Establishing a supportive community nurtures a sense of belonging, confidence and motivation in successors as they navigate their new roles. I encourage you to keep an eye on new names and faces on NBOA Connect, as well as new and returning member schools in the “Connections” column of Net Assets magazine, and consider introducing yourself. You never know where these professional connections might lead.

Develop a Succession Plan.

The highest calling of leadership is to leave your school in a better place than when you arrived. Ensuring that the individual that follows in your footsteps is set up for success is a key part of this. My best advice is to plan for a short but effective transition period like the one Miyoshi and Kolowé had. Well-intended boards of trustees may want a longer transition, but do your best to navigate this. Long transitions can create an unintentional awkwardness between the key players, and particularly staff, who respect the retiring business officer but also want to demonstrate their support for the new leader. Make sure your successor knows when and where to contact you but clearly pass the baton to them and focus on your next chapter. 

Whether you are a current leader preparing for a transition, a potential successor eager to make a positive impact, or an aspiring CFO seeking insights, embracing effective succession planning can pave the way for growth and excellence. I hope you make time over the next few weeks to reflect on your career goals and prepare for your next chapter, be it a new school year or a well-deserved retirement in the year ahead.


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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