Reflections from a New Head

Reflections from a New Head

From The Yield, Winter 2013 

In admission you are always honing your knowledge about your school and how you talk about its identity. You can readily explain what is great about your school, and you are aware of what could be better. Beyond knowing the state of your school, you know what other schools are doing to enhance their students’ experiences. You become adept at describing the unique aspects of what your school offers without being critical of the other educational options in the area.

But, there is one major thing I’ve found missing as I have transitioned from a school I’ve known for almost 20 years to being a new member of a school community— the stories. Stories make our messages compelling; they allow a fuller view into the life and tenor of a school. Like any good admission officer, I’ve started to collect my stories by listening.

Once we listen, we can begin the process of helping a family know if we are the best of what may be several good (or great!) educational options. At the same time, we are also learning if the applicant can thrive in our educational environment. As a new head at New Garden Friends School in Greensboro, NC, I’ve employed this same approach to begin to understand and articulate what is at the core of the school’s identity, ethos, and culture. Only with this knowledge could I begin to discern how well the actions of the school manifest those foundational tenants of an NGFS education.

As a new head, my primary focus and largest commitment of time have been on learning about the school. I was named head in October 2012, so I had a long run-up to arriving for my first day on the job and was able to read a great deal about the school. The far more interesting part of my learning was internalizing the je ne sais quoi of the school and school community. It has been really the process of falling in love with a place; nothing has helped more than watching my children dive into life at NGFS.

As I reflect on the search process itself, what surprises me is how much the process was like applying to a highly-selective high school in eleventh grade. The number of qualified applicants far exceeds the available spaces. One’s past experience needs to reflect some amount of “checking the boxes,” so that you have the opportunity to begin to engage with the search committee. The committee is looking for applicants who can not only be successful but who can hit the ground running.

In the time between my role as director of enrollment management then as head of school at New Garden Friends, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as director of institutional advancement at George School (PA). The role afforded me oversight of admission, communications, marketing, and fundraising gave me the opportunity to think deeply about the full spectrum of engagement that a family has from admission inquiry through planned giving. That transition between these different roles allowed me to refine the lighter touch, the finesse, that is needed as you hold a more senior position in an organization.

Learning delegation is vital to any leadership position. Delegating to the right people allows a leader to build a trusting, reliable team while keeping your pulse on office and campus activities. During my tenure at George School, I relied more on the management of two exceptional colleagues in Christian Donovan, Director of Admission and Financial Aid, and Odie LeFever, Director of Communications and Marketing.

Admission is a great launching point for headship, because it demands a good working knowledge of the school. In addition, a demonstrated acumen in the areas of supervision, financial structures, fundraising, pedagogy, and the synthesized presentations of data are essential. Having experience in teaching, coaching, leading service trips, and/or living in a dorm are incredibly helpful. Successful leadership is about having a critical mass of experience and expertise, and then pairing learning agility with a team of capable partners.

As I work with our admission function, I primarily look for three things: first, authentic passion about what differentiates the experience NGFS provides from the other great educational options in our market; second, exceptional operational processes; third, a facility with mission-driven, data-informed decision making. This is a diverse skill set, but the synthesis of these ideas is essential.

Ari Betof began serving as head of New Garden Friends School on July 1, 2013. Ari earned his Ed.D. in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.S. in physics and mathematics from the Guilford College honors program. His doctoral dissertation, “Leading in the Light: A Study of Financial and Organizational Sustainability of Friends Schools,” was awarded in 2011 with distinction. Ari is on the board of the Friends Council on Education and has been a board member of Newtown Friends School (PA). He will be teaching this winter in the University of Pennsylvania’s Mid-career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership.


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