The Year in Review: 2022
We traveled to visit our clients much more often this year. Everywhere we went, we encountered school communities practically giddy at the chance to be together again, to restore the certainty and rhythms of the school year, the cadence of school events and traditions large and small. One head told me, every school event has been an hour longer than usual this fall; no one wants to leave.
Pandemic-Fueled Tech Frenzy Cools
Anyone who's studied history knows that crises generate great fortunes for a small few. The pandemic was no exception, particularly in the digital tech sector. The most aggressive startups, however, are discovering that schools' forced entry into remote learning also tested the limits of its value, acclerating a shake down of these tools that would have taken a decade otherwise. Some of the boldest of those edtech companies are struggling now.
We've experienced an improvement in the number of high quality candidates in administrative searches this year, particularly with rising stars. As their lives return to greater levels of certainty, candidates seem readier to act on their ambitions and to sustain the disruptions of a taking on a new role and a potential geographical move.
College Admission Shake Up
In retrospect the Varsity Blues scandal 3 years ago was the harbinger of several seismic shifts in admission practices at selective American colleges and universities. Since that time, most "highly rejective" schools (a term coined in the last several years) have become test optional. Likewise, some of these same schools have publicly committed to dissolving legacy preferences in the admission process. For those of us in the independent school community, these changes will serve to fuel already heightened anxiety in our students who come from privilege while opening doors for our students who don't.
Faculty Retention and Recruitment
As much as we've seen veteran educators starting to climb the career ladder again, we are deeply worried about classroom teacher recruitment in the years ahead. Fewer and fewer people are entering college teacher preparation programs, and more teachers are leaving the profession entirely. Whereas teachers hung on through the heart of the pandemic, independent schools have experienced more faculty attrition and a greater number of mid-year departures in the last two years. We're convinced that typical independent school "hiring" practices, in which no one devotes any effort to identifying great teachers until someone decides to leave, must shift to year-round recruitment, fruitful partnerships, and in-house internship programs. Likewise, schools must improve compensation and shift away from a culture of "teaching as a vocation."
Independent schools have not been immune from the nation's fractitious socio-political climate, particularly in purple locales. A few major disruptions have occurred in schools where these issues have driven a wedge between board and head. More often, this kind of conflict has eroded community and enervated heads, who, if head tenure and numbers of abrupt departures are a proxy, were already struggling even before the pandemic.
Early Childhood Crisis
The unavailability of childcare in the US is one of the most troubling consequences of one of the largest pandemic truths: women bore the brunt of the hardships. Women left the workforce in much greater numbers and returned to work later than men. With their histories of abysmal pay and poor working conditions, early childhood schools and childcare centers cannot find staff. The ripple effect of this crisis--in children's learning, in women's employment--has enormous implications for independent schools where women make up the majority of the workforce.
Catholic Schools at Crossroads
I live in St. Louis, an old Catholic city, where more Catholics send their children to Catholic schools than in any other city in the country. Fifty years ago, they did so reflexively but all of that has changed in the years since, during which, nationwide, Catholic school enrollment has declined by 50%. This year, a strategic planning effort by the Archdiocese of St. Louis calls for the consolidation of its 178 parishes to 90, the closure of two high schools and the further shrinking of parish elementary schools. Some Catholic secondary schools continue to thrive, most of them independent of a diocese, but the loss of their feeder schools threatens their future.