Pressing Questions: How Can Innovation Thrive in a Culture that Celebrates Legacy?

Spring 2020

That’s what Alex Brosowsky, now in his fifth year as head of school at The Quaker School at Horsham (PA), recently asked several heads of school.

While preparing my most recent report for the board of trustees, I took a deep dive into the trends and data for our region using NAIS’s data and analysis for school leadership (DASL) and market view tools and discovered that schools serving children with learning differences (LD) is the fastest-growing segment in the Philadelphia region. There are more students enrolled in LD schools now than before the market crashed in 2008. New competition has increased for the precious few new students seeking these schools.

Fortunately, I was able to reassure my trustees with enrollment growth data over four years that we have established our market position as a thought leader and fully enrolled school in this segment. At the same time, I cautioned that only through innovation, like expanding into an upper school, adding a self-contained applied behavior analysis program, and opening an insurance- and Medicaid-accepting clinical services center for the general public, will we maintain our position.

My peers are also feeling the market’s push and pull, and yet, many of us run established institutions with longstanding histories and traditions. This led me to ask them about how they encourage innovation in institutions that value tradition. Here’s what they said.

“We recently reduced our tuition 30% to increase accessibility for families who previously would not consider an independent school due to cost. We needed to retain the same level of strength and distinction, and this is where tradition and innovation intersect. Through diligent and intentional financial modeling and subsequent fundraising, we gave ourselves a timeline to grow the school to create enough new revenue to cover the immediate shortfall. Initial results are strong with a 34% growth in our lower school in the past two years.”—Sally Keidel, Head of School, Montgomery School (PA)

“Finding ways to mesh our strategic goals and culture drives change while bringing stakeholders together. When I arrived at Trident Academy in the summer of 2015, I began assigning summer reading to faculty members and tied our fall in-service to the messages of those books. This past summer, we read Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 and Margaret Rooke’s Dyslexia is My Superpower (Most of the Time). This year, we kicked off our in-service using our new makerspace: We took our top strengths and created superhero capes and masks. Since the initiative was tied to preexisting values, faculty members were engaged, energized, and excited to know what the next books will be.”
Betsy Fanning, Head of School, Trident Academy (SC)

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