In early December, three administrators partnered with colleagues from the Hill School and Lake Forest Academy and Blair’s legal counsel to present at The Association of Boarding School’s (TABS) annual conference. The program, which took place in Boston from December 5 to 9, brings together leading experts in independent and private school education, including heads of school and faculty from a wide range of U.S. and international boarding schools’ admission, communications, academic and residential life offices.
Head of School Chris Fortunato presented at two sessions offered as part of the conference’s diversity and multiculturalism and senior management tracks. First, on December 6, he joined Associate Head of School Ryan Pagotto ’97 and Schwartz Hannum PC managing partner Matthew Batastini in a case-based presentation on best practices in planning, executing and concluding investigations into employee conduct. A day later, Mr. Fortunato switched gears as he teamed up with Lake Forest Academy Dean of Faculty Tom Johnson and Lake Forest Academy director of business services and human resources Kristin Paisley to lead a session on recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty.
“We always welcome the opportunity to meet and learn from colleagues from schools across our industry, and TABS’ annual conference offers an excellent platform to do that while at the same time sharing the best of Blair policies and programs with like-minded educators,” said Mr. Fortunato.
The focus on attracting diverse prospective faculty members and then retaining them once they are hired is no accident, given that Blair’s 2018-2025 Strategic Plan, All In, emphasizes faculty talent and excellence as the School’s most important priority. “We can’t know our students and they can’t know us if our faculty does not reflect the diversity of the world,” Mr. Fortunato explained. “Diversity fuels wellness and connectivity, and our students will be better prepared for success in college and life because of it. That’s why developing a diverse and talented faculty is an essential part of Blair’s mission.”
Presenters from both schools shared their efforts to generate interest from teachers who might not already be aware of boarding school as a career option and reviewed institutional frameworks and metrics for tracking progress toward set goals.
On December 7, Mr. Pagotto tackled another timely topic in a joint presentation with Hill School Dean of Students Ari Baum that detailed what each school is doing to address vaping, Juuls, and the electronic delivery of nicotine and other substances.
“As demonstrated by headlines citing lung disease and even death from vaping, there is a national conversation happening now about the effects of electronic cigarettes and similar devices on people of all ages,” said Mr. Pagotto. “While that conversation is informed by the response of tobacco companies and steps taken by the federal government, schools have taken a responsibility in the meantime to help students understand the significant health implications. All educators need to take seriously the realities of nicotine addition and develop preventive strategies to interrupt or deter use.”
Effective deterrence, he added, requires a mix of education, policy, broad faculty support, healthy peer norming, “a few creative measures,” and partnership among deans and wellness teams.
This year, Blair was also involved in the planning of the annual TABS conference, with Associate Head of School and Dean of Admission Peter G. Curran serving on the 2019 advisory committee. Starting in March 2019, he and colleagues from 11 other boarding schools across the United States reviewed nearly 200 proposals and made recommendations about which should be accepted as speed sessions, pre-conference sessions, and regular conference sessions at the December meeting. Proposal topics included academic administration, admission, financial aid, advancement, and diversity and multiculturalism.
“Being in a position to learn about the latest trends impacting schools today, along with the wide range of innovative work our colleagues across the country, was really inspiring,” said Mr. Curran, who attended and helped facilitate sessions throughout the conference. “And, as always, the opportunities TABS presents for administrators and faculty to network with colleagues were invaluable.”