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.


Head of School Succession Planning (done in partnership with current head and leadership team)

SAIS Accreditation Standard 2.8 requires schools to develop and maintain a succession plan.
The school is prepared to maintain stability during transitions of leadership for both trustees and the head of school. Orderly succession planning and practice help to ensure the continuity of mission. Succession plans must account for board member and board leadership transitions as well as head of school transition. Succession plans must include provisions for training for a first- time head of school and a newly appointed trustee.

  • Develop a succession plan when you don’t need it.
  • The board should receive an annual written succession plan from the head.
  • Keep the concept of succession planning normal and not stress inducing.
  • Clearly define the process of replacing the existing head of school for both planned and unplanned instances.
  • Outline and agree upon the future direction of the school.
  • Identify the skills, traits, and experience of an ideal candidate.
  • Outline necessary communication to community stakeholders.
  • Include financial considerations for conducting a search.
  • Develop a dynamic list of possible internal candidates.
  • Consider the merits of an interim head, determine scenarios in which an interim head would be preferred.

Announcement, Search, and Before the Transition

  • Develop a joint written announcement to the school community.
  • Thank the current head and share plans to celebrate their service to the school.
  • Outline how the school community will be kept informed during the search process.
  • Identify school goals in progress, past and future action steps, and persons responsible.
  • Along with outgoing head, protect critical relationships during the transition.
  • Create stability with board leadership. Amend term limits, name new chair early, or have vice chair shadow sitting chair.
  • Be available to answer questions.
  • Develop a clear plan for the departure of the outgoing head, including their authority to lead the school until the end of the school year.
  • Discuss a commitment of support by the outgoing head for their successor.
  • Offer an opportunity for the outgoing head to serve as an adviser to the new head as appropriate.
  • Discuss the role of the current head in separating from the school.
  • Create a detailed transition plan that addresses every aspect of the move both personal and professional. This document should be seen as a discussion starter, not a dictated plan.
  • The Board should not view a transition as an opportunity to overstep their role as trustees and venture into the operational side of the school’s daily life.

During the Transition

  • Establish a clear understanding of expectations for communication and working with the incoming head.
  • Review tax implications of compensation package benefits such as school-owned housing, tuition remission, executive coaching, etc.)
  • Include specific terms and a schedule for evaluations in the head’s contract.
  • Attend events with the new head, when possible, to introduce them to the school community.
  • Organize an opportunity for the head’s family to meet peers and other school families.
  • Remember that, most likely, the new head is still employed somewhere else.
  • Share important choices the school has made in recent years.
  • Discuss the expectations of the head’s spouse regarding their role at the school.
  • Prepare for unavoidable stress of a leadership transition.
  • Be transparent with the new head about the state of the school, no surprises.
  • Maintain and demonstrate a positive, unanxious outlook.
  • Send timely communications about important changes.
  • Reassure the school community that the school is in good hands and moving in the right direction.
  • Celebrate the school and its successes.

During the First Year

  • Discuss goals for the new head and develop a potential timeline.
  • Provide an executive coach or mentor as part of the head’s contract.
  • Observe how the community interacts with the new head.
  • Ensure that the spouse feels connected to the school.
  • Be available to answer questions.
  • Allow the incoming head to lead with their own style, be receptive to change.
  • Give the head the full and complete support of the board.
  • Work with the head to monitor the pace and encourage balance with their first-year goals.
  • Assist the head in building political capital.
  • Help the new head manage social media outreach from well-intended families.

Transition Resources

Succession Planning Resources