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Strategic Survival Planning

Late Winter Waterfall, Quincy Bog, Rumney, NH

Control expenses while preparing for future growth...can you do both?

Sometimes there’s no avoiding the necessity of controlling expenses! And in using the word “controlling” we are being diplomatic. Let’s face it: we all try, all the time, to be responsible stewards of the resources we manage. But yes, sometimes “controlling” is a polite word for

“reducing” expenses.

When customary sources of revenue are under stress, management’s priorities are thrown into very clear focus. First, of course, is the financial viability of the institution. Will we have a deficit? If so, how will it be funded? And how much loss-taking capacity do we have, how many years of reserves do we have? If revenue is declining, how can we reduce our expenses in order to reduce our dependence upon reserves and endowment draw-down?

Less obviously and more difficult to consider is the longer-term question: how can we reposition the institution so that, in ways that are consistent with its mission and with the understanding of its donor-supporters and existing tuition-payers, we build on strengths while remaining true to our mission?

Expense cutting and control are issues that demand immediate attention, and are a bit akin to a required surgery. It is only natural to wish that the necessity of action would dissolve. But we’ve probably waited a while hoping for the “deus ex machina” solution, and it has not descended upon us! And so we face the grim realities: we have fewer students, we have less revenue, we need to make difficult but immediate decisions regarding what our schools can afford next year, what they cannot afford. Discussions must be initiated with colleagues and, quite possibly, with students and parents, particularly those families who will be most affected by the elimination of favorite sports or desired courses.

Amidst the unavoidable immediacy of these issues, if we can maintain a “problem-solving

growth mindset”, we might be able to turn our attention to the second question posed above, where the answers are less obvious: how can we plan for a better future while, at the same time, making these challenging immediate decisions?

Our belief is that school leaders have to be open to considering a wide range of unexpected

options. Schools that have spent time and money developing online learning options can extend these platforms to new communities of students. Collaborations with outside organizations can be enhanced, offering students opportunities to engage in enriching projects in technology, internships, sports, and the arts that would have been inaccessible to them when the only decision was to attend, or not to attend, our school. Partnerships with like-minded schools, not only within the school’s traditional geographic area but also well beyond it, can be explored. Flexible online instruction can meet the needs of families who frequently travel together, whether for business or for enrichment reasons. Schools may find that individual faculty members are actually open to taking a semester- or year-long hiatus from teaching, perhaps with some consideration regarding benefits when salary cannot be continued. Other instructors may opt for reduced course loads or other work models that reduce school expenses while providing mid-career people opportunities to re-tool or re-consider their future work lives.

The common thread in all of this should be the strength of the school community itself.

Even students heavily engaged in remote learning want and need to have a “home base,”

where they are known, know others, can contribute to the continued growth of the community. The stability of the community, with its longevity, its customs, its connections between adults and students, is not just something to be valued for the immediate benefits it provides. Rather it must be recognized as something of enduring value. Our trustees serve our schools without compensation and provide a model for our understanding of the importance of our institutions’ vitality, which goes beyond our immediate mission of preparing students for university, and points to our greater role in the lives of our students, their families, and our graduates. There is an inherent value attached to membership in our school communities, and it is not unrealistic to give consideration to how that participation in the community can itself have a value, apart from the value imparted by instruction, sports, and activities.

We at VisM suggest and offer “Strategic Survival Planning” with a school’s board and

administrative leadership.


A few words about our backgrounds...

Vital Independent School Management is a New England based consultancy composed of three experienced independent school leaders.

Dexter Morse led Worcester Academy for 15 years with a laser focus on enrollment growth, development and implementation of the school's student-centered strategic plan. During Dexter's tenure, enrollment increased from 317 to 655 students and the school completed its first two major capital campaigns- the first for $30,000,000 and the second for $50,000,000.Dexter graduated from Phillips Andover, Bowdoin College (BA), UVM (MEd) and UMass Amherst, (CAGS).Dexter resides in Holden Massachusetts, and is VisM’s Senior Partner.

Bill Toomey served for 22 years as Chief Financial Officer/Controller of Worcester Academy and other large New England boarding schools. Bill has a pragmatic insistence upon expense control and realistic budgeting. Bill resides in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and holds his BS in Accounting from New Hampshire College.

Harry Lynch served as Head of School at Boston’s The Newman School for 35 years, leading the institution through initial accreditation with NEASC/CIS in 1993, and the introduction of the school’s International Baccalaureate program. Harry lives in Plymouth, New Hampshire, and is a graduate of College of the Holy Cross (B.A.) and Northeastern University (M.B.A.)


VisM focuses on Strategic Mentoring of Boards and School Leadership teams. We are experienced, successful school leaders with years of service both as Board members and as administrators. We are sensitive to school budgeting realities and are focused on the success of YOUR school.

For information about how we can help your Board or your school leadership, contact Dexter Morse

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