We're Back

Hoping the break offered plenty of chance to rest and recharge and minimal time dealing with cancelled flights. It’s good to be back together and into some increasingly familiar routines, adding in some New Year’s resolutions. My hope this month is to turn your attention to a couple of really important processes—the head of school search and the formation of a budget for next year. They actually have quite a bit to do with one another—here’s how:

The most immediate and pressing item has to be the campus visits of our permanent head of school search finalists. As I type, the first of the three is on his second jam-packed day at Island School, meeting with students, teachers, admin team members, Board folks, alumni, and parents/guardians. Here’s hoping you’ve seen the schedule for those visits, and for consistency’s sake, it’s the exact same two-day agenda for each one. Specifically it makes room for a 2-3pm session on day #1 open to all community members (just before pick-up) and another session on day #2 from 7:30-8:30am for that same purpose, just after drop-off. 

If you can’t make it for all three, that’s not a reason to miss going to one or two. Next week we’ll welcome the other candidates with visits on Monday/Tuesday then Thursday/Friday—please join.  Be sure to fill out the feedback forms, too. After that, the Search Committee and Board go to work deliberating and making that all-important choice. Look for an announcement later this month. I’m excited by all that has transpired and impressed by what I hear and see from the candidates—a very strong trio from all I can tell, though appropriately there’s no seat for me in the groups making this decision.

A quick aside—you know that it was never the plan for me to be here past one year, right? Has nothing to do with how much I love Island School, which you can probably tell I absolutely do. It’s about finding someone who can put some years into this amazing project, and my odometer already has too many miles. That’s been the plan from the start—me as interim to allow the kind of thoughtful process the school deserves to happen. Rest assured I will never stop caring about Island School, but no more treading water—it’s time to move forward.

In that spirit, the other big item for this time of year is our budget for 2023-24, something that was a centerpiece of the Board’s work at their December meeting. That’s the time to look formally at what we’re experiencing in terms of resource needs, and what we expect to provide to make the school possible through the coming fiscal year, which ends way up in June 2024. Pretty tall task, looking back at what we’ve done before, looking closely at where we are day to day right now, and looking through the best crystal ball we have to predict what we’ll need more than a year ahead. It’s essential governance work for any organization and, simply put, it’s our statement of what we expect to happen.

My very imperfect impression is that historically there has been a huge priority put on asking as little as possible of the tuition-paying families of Island School. It’s a worthy and wise course, but it leads, maybe inadvertently, to believing the notion that somehow we can make something from nothing. I can say, six months in, that this is the most budget-careful school I’ve ever seen. I can also say that there is, despite all best intentions, no way to make something from nothing. There just isn’t.  Instead, what masquerades as doing that is finding ways to go without what we probably actually  need, and/or finding people willing to go above and beyond reasonable expectations in order to provide the extra work that connects the dots around here. Don’t shoot me as the messenger—I say this out of love and respect.

Which brings us to the question of next year. The fact is that we’re living through the highest price inflation in a generation, and at the same time worrying about a possible recession in the coming year. Last year’s budget did not allow for anything other than a very small increase in prices, but we’ve made it work because we needed to. Add to that the fact that faculty/staff compensation has not increased in any substantial way for a very long time, if ever, leaving us comparing increasingly less favorably with both public and private schools locally, statewide, and nationally.

The question is, what are we going to do about all that, and what will it mean for tuition. The short answer is nothing drastic, but also, NOT nothing. Finding, supporting, and keeping great teachers here is probably the best predictor of future success for Island School. As part of the re-enrollment process for next year, beginning late this month, you should know and be supportive of what we are planning to do.

It all connects. Our finalist candidates are asking what’s next for the school and what we think is most important. Our budget should help answer that question in a very basic and practical way. Let’s think about how the way we do this big balancing will set the course for the next group of Voyagers and those who dedicate themselves to that future.

With continuing gratitude for the chance to be here,