In developing this guiding document, SAIS consulted with heads and other key school leaders who have recently experienced a leadership transition. They were asked to review existing items and contribute additional items from their transition experience. This will be an evolving checklist for schools planning or working through a head’s transition.



  • Let the school and board know your preferred method of communication during the transition before your start date.
  • Obtain a new school email address to keep separate accounts for current and new school information.
  • Be honest about your strengths and experience as well as those areas of headship that are new to you.
  • Dive in to understand the school’s overall health. Form your own opinions from your unique perspective.
  • Do not rely on a single source to provide complete information on any function of the school.
  • Schedule time off campus to share observations with outgoing head.
  • Set an early tone of partnership and share clear expectations.
  • Establish a reasonable balance between learning about the school and making major decisions.
  • Share your thoughts and questions throughout the year. Faculty and parents will appreciate transparency and communication.

Building Relationships

  • Listen and learn. Take time to build relationships and understand the school’s culture.
  • Create a list of people to meet during the transition. Include key staff members from maintenance, security, and dining in addition to the senor leadership team.
  • Identify the behind-the-scenes players who get things done.
  • Identify staff members who hold influence over the faculty, determine if they will challenge or support the change in leadership.
  • Intentionally seek out conversations with staff members who may be quiet or under the radar. Listen to those outside the leadership circle.

Program and Operations

  • Obtain reports from any surveys that have been deployed in the past three years.
  • Review current or previous legal issues with the school attorney.
  • Ask about things that should not change in addition to areas that may need to change.
  • Identify where the school is in its accreditation cycle. Read the most recent report and recommendations. Ask for a progress update on current goals.
  • If there is a strategic plan in place, outside of accreditation goals, ask for a status update on those as well.
  • Dive into the financial health of the school. Build a trusting relationship with the CFO, ask questions, and get the answers you need to understand how resources are being used.

School Community

  • Determine the number of campus visits and meetings you will need to have between acceptance and official start date.
  • Identify required personal appearances (events, graduation, etc.)
  • During campus visits, be seen by students, teachers, and parents. Interact and engage as appropriate and as time allows.
  • Ask different groups about the unspoken rules and culture of the school community.
  • Be mindful of opportunities to publicly reinforce the school’s mission so that the community sees that you align with these values.

SAIS Accreditation

  • View most recent accreditation report, noting recommendations and goals for improvement.
  • Connect with accrediting agency (especially if it is different from previous school).
  • Determine dual accreditation with state or other association, if applicable.
  • Meet with the school’s accreditation coordinator.
  • Review ongoing requirements of accrediting agency including standards, process, and timeline for next review or report.
  • Review specific state guidelines and required reporting that are applicable to independent schools.