Dear PAIS Friends:

When I began my role as Executive Director, I was new to directing an association, but not to PAIS. I had led a PAIS school and even served on the PAIS Board. Frankly, I had always believed this association could be doing more to fulfil its mission as a full-service state and region-wide association. I had my own perspective on what was missing but valued the opportunity to hear directly from our school heads. I set out to visit every PAIS school and meet with their Heads, but only made it to 42 of the 110 before COVID struck.

From those meaningful visits there emerged an early consensus on immediate opportunities for PAIS. First, while many Heads favorably viewed the PAIS Accreditation process, several offered compelling recommendations for improvement. Secondly, PAIS needed to improve communication with all constituents, providing useful information through efficient formats. Thirdly, member schools required more robust and timely governmental affairs news and advocacy. Finally, although the association's financial model required more long term assessment, the pandemic's disruption made a modification of dues for schools necessary. Each of these opportunities resulted in deliberate and timely action.

These responsive steps were only the beginning. To become a full-service association meeting member schools' needs, PAIS aspired to expand its menu of services. Consequently, we set out to provide you with the opportunity to offer critical input. PAIS engaged the services of the highly regarded independent school survey work of Kevin Graham of Lookout Management. Your responses to our survey have led to an emerging list of priorities and opportunities.

As promised, I am submitting to you some preliminary impressions of what Heads identified as strengths and challenges as well as some carefully curated scores to specific statements on programming and accreditation.

Finally, I am pleased to share with you that PAIS has partnered with Greg Bamford of Leadership + Design to begin a strategic process to determine opportunities for us to better serve your school. Through our work with Leadership + Design, the PAIS Board and I will use your perspectives to shape strategic imperatives ultimately providing Heads, administrators, and teachers with tools, guidance, and advocacy, all in support of your effort to navigate the volatile and complex conditions of independent school leadership today.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement and support!

Sincerely yours,

Gary J. Niels
Executive Director
Existing and Emerging PAIS Strengths:
  • Overwhelmingly Heads commented on the revised relevance of PAIS.
  • PAIS investment in stronger “governmental affairs” communication has resulted in timely and useful information. 
  • The role of PAIS as an agent for advocacy has increased in importance. 
  • The efforts to build community within the association where exchange of thoughts and issues occurs is appreciated and helpful.
  • State sanctioned accreditation by a team of knowledgeable independent school educators continues to be recognized as PAIS’s most important function. 
  • Regarding the accreditation process, heads recognized the impressive leadership of the Visiting Team Chairs and the diligent work of Visiting Teams.

Areas of Growth and Opportunity:

  • Heads affirmed the need for PAIS to expand services, especially in such areas as leadership development, mentorship and teaching practice.
  • PAIS should grow opportunities for exchange on vital school issues for those in school leadership roles. 
  • The one size fits all accreditation process needs revision. Further adaptation to each school’s philosophy and mission is needed.
  • PAIS needs to demonstrate a deeper commitment to better serving boarding schools in the accreditation process. 
  • The Commission on Accreditation might assess whether the current 10 year accreditation cycle still makes sense.
  • The accreditation process should be developed into useful instrument for strategic planning. 
  • Improve the pre-planning and follow-up to the accreditation process.
Statements that received the most positive responses:
  • I have derived good value from the Executive Director’s communication over recent months. (96.7%)
  • I would like to see PAIS facilitate mentoring for people in new leadership roles among member schools. (85.8%)
  • Through PAIS efforts, I feel well informed on governmental affairs relevant to my School. (85.3%)
  • I would like to see PAIS play a more active role facilitating networking among member schools. (84.7%)
  • I would be interested in accessing articles and resources of relevance on the PAIS website. (82.5%)
  • I would support PAIS playing a more active role in professional development for teachers. (81.1%)
Statements that received the least positive responses:
  • The Biennial All-School Conference (if attended) has been helpful to my School. (31.5%)
  • I would be willing to play a more active role in connecting with my School’s local legislators in support of potential legislation at the State level. (51.7%)
  • I would like to see PAIS revive its annual New Teacher Institute. (56.1%)

Our school needs to be connected to peer schools more than we are. Anything PAIS can do to link us to those other institutions is a plus. 
We also have benefitted from regular contact with the Executive Director about governmental matters.

I think that PAIS can provide more opportunities to share concerns with my peers.
You already do this, but one can never talk too much to one's peers.

And less for me directly, but for our industry, someone out there needs to take on Leadership Development,
and by that, I mean Division Heads and Heads of School. 
Many of the latter will be retiring.
Who is intentionally helping identify and groom the next generation of leaders in our schools?

The legislative updates this COVID season have been extraordinarily valuable.

I think professional development is most important and could be more robust at PAIS.

I would like more networking opportunities. It might be nice to be assigned a "buddy" as a new HOS unfamiliar with the area.

Statements that received the most positive responses:
  • The Visiting Team took good care to study and understand our School. (89.2%)
  • The Visiting Team Chair was helpful to us as we worked through the accreditation process. (88.9%)
  • I support the Association’s plans to enhance accreditation focus on the School’s strategic future. (85.3%)
  • I feel my school derives meaningful value from the on-site format of the Visiting Team’s work. (82.9%)
  • The commendations and recommendations of the Visiting Team’s final report accurately reflected the state of our School. (79.5%)
Statements that received the least positive responses:
  • The accreditation process was helpful to our School in creating/establishing a strategic plan. (55.3%)
  • PAIS follow-up efforts added value to our own response to the accreditation exercise. (58.1%)
  • The PAIS pre-accreditation program (including the workshop, online materials, and coaching) was helpful in preparing our School for the accreditation process. (62.9%)

Being able to check off the box for holding a recognized accreditation is, perhaps the most important benefit to my school.
I've also greatly appreciated the much more active engagement of the current Executive Director.

Customize the pre-planning meeting to our needs more, and the overall process.
PAIS needs to differentiate more between really good schools and those that are really struggling.

We found the accreditation instrument too cookie-cutter.

More members of the visiting team with boarding school experience.

Coach team members not to view best practices solely through the lens of their own schools. Adopt a healthy pluralism.

Improve the accreditation process so that we might consider making the move from Middle States. Free mentoring opportunities for new leaders.

Help protect and promote our uniqueness and independence vs striving for sameness.

A 10-year accreditation cycle is too long in today's world. My suggestion is that the full-scale accreditation be shortened, 
or the mid-cycle Interim evaluation be made significantly more robust.

PAIS | P.O. BOX 590, PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA 19462 | 610-567-2960 | WWW.PAISPA.ORG