November 13, 2020

Happy Friday, Friends!

We are so close to Thanksgiving, I can almost smell the turkey and feel the adrenaline of our family game nights that occasionally border on almost a little bit violent (for those who love a good strategy game, Ticket to Ride and its many permutations is a good one). For those of you who were unable to join, do go to for the heads’ round table we did with Barry Johnson and polarities. I think you will enjoy how he talks through it, but also the two maps your colleagues worked through.

For your skimmers… Start thinking about whether you might require staff to get vaccinated with this piece, get a feeling for the Biden administration with this overview on employment law possibilities and this one on education from Education Dive, read about how diversity within businesses and working groups helps drive success (an oldie but goodie), this step by step that Mark Mitchell at NAIS created for how to think about your tuition as you set it, really look at this OECD Report on Scenarios for Schooling, McKinsey released this commentary on rethinking the future of American capitalism, and check out this piece on managing in extreme uncertainty as early on it outlines the things that get in our way – optimism bias, informational instability, wrong answers, paralysis by analysis, and maybe the one closest to home for many of us – organizational exhaustion.

This week’s public information flow has been dominated by three main threads – at least if you take sports out of the picture, particularly Jon Rahm’s hole in one at the Masters this week.


First, in COVID-19 news, Pfizer announced that its vaccine is proving to be 90% effective in its trial group, much better than initial speculations that any of the upcoming vaccines would be somewhere in the range of 60% or so effective. It will require two shots, making distribution of the vaccine a bit more complex. Also, given how short a time this vaccine has been in trials, we don’t know how long the protection lasts or if there are any longer term side effects. In short, we have a ways to go. However, the relatively close release of this vaccine has invariably led to questions about who gets the vaccine first. At this time, every state is creating its own priority system, with frontline health workers and older residents generally being the early recipients. The CDC recently released a playbook about how vaccination priority determinations play out as well as the processes and challenges related to such a massive vaccine distribution. Educators are generally the next in line, although it will be important to ensure that states do not accidentally exclude nonpublic school staff from that list. Perhaps the bigger question is if you can require staff and students to take the vaccines once it is available. While it is likely that you can, the question often then becomes if you should. For information on the employee front, try this piece and for students, check out our recorded webinar (spoiler alert – probably yes, particularly if it the state does not mandate it, bringing the vaccine under state exemptions). Either way, the existence of this particular vaccine and the plans to roll out millions of doses of it by the end of 2020 has projections herd immunity in developed economies by the third and fourth quarters of 2021 and some movement towards “normal” in the first half of next year. Does the vaccine make you a little anxious and wanting to know more? (hello, first vaccine developed in less than 4 years?), I liked this piece with seven key questions to ask. Also, if you really want to dig into the legal, this piece on common COVID misunderstandings as well as these enhanced employer recordkeeping requirements are fun.

Democrats in the White House

Second, regardless of what is happening in the White House at the moment, president-elect Biden is moving forward with his transition team. As often happens, this leads to a lot of ink being spilt on speculations about the new administration’s impact on businesses, etc. As a little bit of a policy wonk and someone who engaged with the federal government on behalf of independent schools for a long time, I love these speculations. My short version is that – regardless of your political leanings – Democrats tend to make business life more complex for employers (e.g., the NLRB will be back in the saddle agitating over social media use limitations in employment handbooks, how to define an independent contractor will remain complex (and there were new, really good regulations that were so close)) and they don’t generally love school choice options through vouchers, tax benefits, or anything else. On the plus side, they might finally do something to help the cost of higher education given where student debt is across the US and for schools that have H-1B or J-1 teachers, the Biden administration is likely to be more helpful as the most recent Trump administration moves made those visas much more complex for independent schools. You can also anticipate more coordination around safety guidance or mandates regarding the virus on almost every level. However, check out this overview on workplace law under Biden or this one, this one on education from NPR, and this one on education from Education Dive. The impact of this agenda is obviously less if the Senate is with the Republicans, but the oversight of agencies, particularly during this pandemic, should not be underestimated.

Rising COVID Rates

Third, the rising COVID rates around the United States are particularly challenging right now. I was on a group call earlier today and one school from the Midwest shared that in the last week they have had to quarantine 1/3 of a middle school grade, two cohorts in their lower school, and over five staff members. Their situation is somewhat common at the moment and our schools are not escaping the ongoing challenges here. We have seen a general trend in European schools of staying open even as rates rise and other businesses close or have more restricted hours. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, some of these communications schools have been sharing encouraging families to be aware of the pandemic and act accordingly may be helpful. I am going to send the COVID outbreak response data in a separate email. If needed, do start prepping your board and community for potential future online school transitions. Everyone in enjoying being back on campus and moving away from that model might be a bit of a shock.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Our SAIS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force will meet next week and I have been doing some legwork on that front as well as helping schools identify helpful resources on DEI issues. I thought some of these resources might be useful to you, too.

One good overview piece for boards thinking about how to move forward is this one from NAIS. And for boards that would like some demographic context, this is a good demographics overview, noting that this year is the first year that minors will be a majority non-white. We have seen demographic shifts in independent schools across the country, although SAIS schools tend to lag a bit behind the national data (see the piece that Jeff Mitchell wrote for us last week on SAIS stats). The overall change in demographics also calls for all of our students not to be educated in a homogenous culture because their experiences later will certainly not be that way (check out this HBR piece and then the links on the right toward the bottom). To take that all to the next level, this Scientific American piece gets to how diversity within businesses and working groups helps drive success.

It is obviously important to remember that diversity, equity and inclusion work done right has a dramatic impact on the health and wellness of students, families, and staff at the school, both in the short and long-term. A not insubstantial part of that wellness is about feelings of belonging. I wrote on belonging in the NAIS Trendbook for 2018-2019. That excerpt is here. This chapter talks about African American students, but essentially anyone who feels “different” in your culture will experience a decreased sense of belonging when the culture does not take them into account. And those with decreased senses of belonging tend to have lower levels of engagement, etc., for both students and staff.  For students this generally means that students can see themselves in their teachers and classmates, but also in the curriculum that they study and the way that they feel they “fit” into the environment – their student journey and experience from every angle. There is a lot of belonging research out there (arguably higher ed has focused on it more than k12) and, depending on what aspect of diversity you focus on, a lot of information on each one. And, remember that this is true for staff as well. This can be a helpful lens to bring to the table as your school engages in more of this work.

A number of schools have asked for something to guide their work or how they think about their work from a broader institutional level. There is not much available in the k-12 space in terms of outlining a continuum, but this one from higher ed might be helpful. I would add, too, that I am intrigued by partnerships like this one in higher ed growing to collectively foster diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses.

Other resources that might be useful:

A few other quick hits that you shouldn’t miss this week…


  • I love this step by step that Mark Mitchell at NAIS created for how to think about your tuition as you set it. Not a pandemic only piece, but one for the ages with great processes.
  • Really look at this OECD Report on Scenarios for Schooling. There was an earlier version, but this one seems more built out to me and the models are particularly interesting.
  • This pandemic has offered an opportunity for SAIS to get to know AAIE, an international association of independent school leaders. Their magazine just came out and I think you will be particularly interested in their pieces on governance and also so many of the practical tools and insights in there. Lots of shorter reads with great take-aways.
  • This is a nice collection from WSJ on education’s evolution of which I was unaware.
  • This piece on whether your school will nurture transformation or go back to business as usual, and what you need to transform is a good one.
  • Wondering whether the hassle over sports and other extracurricular activities is worth it? Probably.
  • Southern Teachers has finished the week by week release of their leadership study, which you might find interesting. The data at the end of each section was particularly interesting to me.
  • Jennifer Bryan and her Re-Set School group just released this wellness check from school staff
  • As the Blackbaud security issues continue to make waves in the nonprofit world, keep an eye out for cybersecurity pieces like this one to make sure that your school is staying on top of this hot topic.

Broader Picture / Leadership

  • McKinsey released this commentary on rethinking the future of American capitalism. Some of the information we know – the squeezing of the middle class – but it also talks about why that has happened and how that trend is unlikely to change. Definitely read this as it has some great insights. If you are worried afterwards, I would call you back to this Fast Company article with advice on the next 25 years.
  • I am going to print out this article on managing in extreme uncertainty as early on it outlines the things that get in our way – optimism bias, informational instability, wrong answers, paralysis by analysis, and maybe the one closest to home for many of us – organizational exhaustion.

And, do register for the upcoming SAIS webinars on planning for next year. The first one is next Thursday evening and features two doctors and an economist to talk with us about the next 18 months or more for our planning pleasure. You will also see a special session for parents and college counselors with Jeff Selingo on December 1st. He’s going to come to the heads’ roundtable on December 2nd, too, when we can talk college admissions, but he’s also got a lot of depth on the future of education, models, and how k-12 plays into the big picture. You can check out these and more (like attracting, hiring, and supporting faculty of color with Dr. Sonja Taylor), on the SAIS webinar page.

And, finally, I love the holidays. They are going to be a little sad this year as I grew up in the Polish equivalent of the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and they will not all be showing up in Charleston to torture the pets, eat the food, take up every couch and bed, make a huge mess, and leave us loved and exhausted. This all means that more online shopping will be happening in my house and likely yours. And businesses, UPS, and FedEx are all warning to order presents early. If you are going to be the early bird gift purchaser, check out this list of coolest gifts, this one on awesome stocking stuffers, one of the myriad best books of 2020, and – of course – the best cookbooks of 2020. I won’t lie, these lists occasionally trigger “one for you, one for me” thinking on this end. Alas, many college essays to review before the holidays… wanna see how expensive college is on a big wheel of prices? Check it out!

And that is all I have for you this week, my friends. Stay safe out there and enjoy the weekend!