Adding Head of School to your Resume

Adding Head of School to your Resume

From The Yield, Fall 2014 

Admission as leadership has been a reoccurring theme for SSATB and the industry as a whole. As SSATB’s State of the Independent School Admission Industry Report indicated, admission leaders are challenged with generating the majority of a school’s revenue, ensuring the school’s enrollment, leading their staff through the daily challenges, and counseling families through the admission process – all while attempting to chart their own future.

This year, three of SSATB’s Admission Leadership Council (ALC) members were successful in this venture by having charted a future that ended with a leap from the admission office to the Head’s office. We asked Suzanne, Sally, and Josh to tell us about the influence their former admission roles will play in their new position and about the lessons they had learned during the journey.

Suzanne Walker Buck, 
Rector, 
Chatham Hall (VA) 
Formerly: Director of Enrollment Management, 
New Hampton School (NH)

Tell us how you plan to orient yourself to your new school, new position.

The orientation process really began prior to my first interview. I have read anything and everything including Chatham Hall’s website, their admission and advancement publications, a book chronicling the history of the school, accreditation reports, minutes from meetings, and budget summaries. I have also tried to learn as much as I can about organizations affiliated with as well as those that compete with the school. Chatham Hall is an all girls’ Episcopal school in Virginia — these three data points alone are giving me plenty to research. Two separate visits to campus in the spring allowed me to meet with students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumnae and parents. These conversations provided a richer context for my understanding of the school. I am also planning an administrative retreat for which I feel so invigorated. Here we will get to know one another better, develop a shared understanding of our work, establish goals, and create strategies for best practice.

As a new head, what do you want to remember most about and take from your admission days?

I love admission work… meeting families, formulating yield strategy, managing budget, connecting with students, collaborating with various departments in the school, and working with the board of trustees. I am optimistic that the multidimensional work of admission will translate well into the realm of head of school.

What advice would you give an admission director currently in or seeking to enter a head search?

Know that you are highly marketable! Admission work is multifaceted. You not only have valuable knowledge and experience in generating revenue, you also have a dynamic skill set that other school administrators have not been able to cultivate. Celebrate these strengths in your cover letter, personal statement, and resume. They set you apart from candidates emerging from other areas of school administration. At a time when so many schools are tuition revenue dependent, your background in enrollment management demands attention.

How did you plan your career path/track, professional development, and education to get on the head track?

I have been in enrollment management work for my entire professional career. While I have also served schools in additional capacities (Spanish teacher, chair of the ESL department, coach, advisor, house parent), admission/enrollment work has been at the core of my responsibilities in schools. It was after working in admission and financial aid for five years that I attended graduate school and earned masters’ degrees in both social work and education.

In addition, attending and presenting at conferences like the SSATB Annual Meeting, networking with colleagues from other schools, and reading publications like The Yield and those developed by TABS have really informed my enrollment management strategies and, ultimately, what I have been able to accomplish in the field. At the end of the day, I positioned myself as a competent enrollment leader through demonstrated success and quantifiable outcomes, and this has proved effective in the head of school search process.

Sally Keidel, 
Head of School, 
Montgomery School (PA) 
Formerly: Assistant Head of School for Enrollment and External Affairs, 
Agnes Irwin School (PA)

Tell us how you plan to orient yourself to your new school, new position.

First, I plan to meet with every member of the staff at the school — from the administrative team, to the faculty, to the kitchen and the grounds crew. I want to understand why they work at Montgomery, what they love about the school, and what they see as the possibilities for the school. Also, given that the school is currently preparing for reaccreditation, I want to familiarize myself with all the self-study documents, as these will give me a clear look about where the school is and where the school would like to go.

As a new head, what do you want to remember most about and take from your admission days?

First and foremost, I will make sure that the admission director is at the table for conversations about enrollment, tuition and pricing, and setting the financial aid budget. With the finger on the pulse of both the internal community, as well as the external market from which the school draws, the admission director is a critical member of the administrative team and needs to have a seat at the table. I will work to make sure that the faculty understands its crucial role in supporting the retention efforts of the school. As those who work with the students every day, the faculty will have the best opportunity to talk with students and their parents about the educational experience.

What advice would you give an admission director currently in or seeking to enter a head search?

I would suggest that they find opportunities to get involved in their school outside of the admission office. There are always opportunities to get more involved in curriculum planning, development, special initiatives, and strategic planning. If you demonstrate your willingness to roll up your sleeves and get to work as a thoughtful leader and a good listener, there will be plenty of opportunities — though you will have to put in the extra hours. As an admission person in a head search, you are going to have to be able to present (and prove) your broad understanding of what is important in schools — from curriculum, finances, faculty recruitment and development, and governance. The experiences that you have outside of the office will give you the experience to draw upon as you interview and ultimately do the job!

How did you plan your career path/track, professional development, and education to get on the head track?

First, I talked with colleagues and sought out mentors who would give me feedback on opportunities I should consider. I asked for advice and listened when it was given. A few years ago, there was a panel session at the SSATB Annual Conference with heads of school who were once admission directors. The presenters shared a lot of information about what skills from admission they drew upon in the job, and they particularly talked about the need for a master’s degree in a relevant program. I took the advice/wisdom from the session to heart. Following up on that session, I enrolled in the School Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Another friend said to me a few years ago, “Why aren’t you seeking Assistant Head of School jobs?” I also think we need people around us who push us towards more.

Josh Wolman, 
Head of School, 
Aspen Country Day School (CO) 
Formerly: Associate Head of School for Admissions and Financial Aid, 
Sidwell Friends School (DC)

Tell us how you plan to orient yourself to your new school, new position.

I plan to be as visible and accessible as possible. My hope is to meet members of the Aspen Country Day community and listen to how they talk about the school and what they are hoping for in a new leader. On July 1st, my official start date, I sent a letter to all employees asking that they reply to me with a 30-45 minute time when they could stop by my office for a no-agenda, introductory meeting. I also sent an invitation to members of the board asking to meet individually with each of them. In both cases, my intent is to be a thoughtful and careful listener. Lastly, I plan to be very involved in the life of the school — I want to know the students, visit classes, join outdoor education trips, host parent coffees, etc.

As a new head, what do you want to remember most about and take from your admission days?

I have often described admissions as a “story telling” profession. I will miss the individual parent meetings, students interviews, and helping figure out the school that is the right fit for each student. Having been so closely tied to the people-oriented business of admissions is a good reminder that, as head of school, I need to find time to meet with families and listen to their stories.

What advice would you give an admission director currently in or seeking to enter a head search?

My best advice is to be yourself. Don’t try to impress search committees or consultants with what you think they want to hear or what you think is the “right” answer. Be honest, genuine, and humble, and don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. Search committees and boards are made up of smart and thoughtful people; try to make a connection with them, but don’t try too hard.

How did you plan your career path/track, professional development, and education to get on the head track?

Looking back, the best professional development I received was from the daily work with all of the accomplished colleagues I have been lucky to work with across my career. I didn’t always have a specific plan of becoming a head of school, but I have always been fascinated by independent school leadership and feel privileged to have been part of some incredible school communities — both as an employee and as a student — at institutions like Sidwell Friends School and Columbia Teachers College. If you are thinking about a headship, take time to talk with the people you work with every day, and also connect with people at professional conferences.

 

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