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SAIS Selects New President

Wednesday, August 22, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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The SAIS Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that Debra Wilson has been selected to serve as the next SAIS president as of July 1, 2019.

Wilson currently serves as general counsel for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). In addition to her role as chief legal officer, she has presented to school leaders around the country and abroad, including at many SAIS events. SAIS school leaders may also know her from phone calls and emails she’s fielded from member schools facing particular legal or governance issues. 

Search committee chair Byron Hulsey, head of Woodberry Forest School, said, “Debra Wilson will be a fantastic president for SAIS. She is known as a natural leader and problem-solver with a deep regard for all of our member schools and the children we are privileged to serve. Equally accomplished as a strategic thinker and a practical doer, Debra is poised to lead SAIS to even greater heights.”

Wilson is committed to helping schools prevent and mitigate risks before they become crises and is heavily involved in initiatives addressing many of the most pressing issues facing schools today, including promoting good governance, ensuring student safety, fostering equitable communities, and improving student mental health. She has authored many articles and chapters on the legal, governance, and student well-being issues impacting independent schools. In her role at NAIS, she directs the organization’s government relations work, reviews and analyzes federal regulations and legislation, tracks legal trends, and coordinates independent school advocacy at the federal level. 

In accepting the role as president of SAIS, Wilson said, “I am extremely excited and honored to be asked to work more closely with and on behalf of the schools of SAIS. SAIS has such a firm commitment to providing quality services and accreditation to its schools. I look forward to working with the talented SAIS team to continue its great work.”

Donna Orem, president of NAIS, said, “Debra joined NAIS in August 2000 and during her tenure she has become a champion of our association and community. Her contributions to independent schools are many, and we join SAIS member schools in congratulating her on this tremendous opportunity. We will miss her greatly, although we recognize strong ties between our associations help us serve our schools more effectively.”

Before joining the NAIS staff, Wilson was a tax litigator at the Department of Justice. She grew up in Connecticut, where she graduated from the Williams School, an independent school located on the campus of Connecticut College. She received her B.A. in English from Sewanee, The University of the South, and her J.D. from the University of South Carolina at Columbia. She is an avid reader, photographer, and cook, and loves to be outdoors in the low country of South Carolina. Wilson and her husband, James, reside in Mount Pleasant, SC, with their three children.

Wilson will begin her role on July 1, 2019, succeeding Dr. Kirk Walker, whose term will end on June 30, 2019.

SAIS would like to extend thanks to Pat Bassett and Rich Odell of Heads Up Consulting for leading a thorough nationwide search which began on January 11 and generated completed applications from school leaders from across the country. Thank you also to the members of the search committee:

  • Marifred Cilella, The Howard School (GA)
  • Byron Hulsey, Woodberry Forest School (VA)
  • Cliff Kling, Gulliver Schools (FL)
  • Dennis Manning, Norfolk Academy (VA)
  • Mark Reed, Charlotte Country Day School (NC)
  • Lori Spear, SAIS
  • Jackie Westerfield, Grandview Preparatory School (FL)

The mission of SAIS is to strengthen member schools by providing high-quality accreditation processes, comprehensive professional growth opportunities, and visionary leadership development programs.


Calendar more
SAIS@NAIS PoCC
November 28, 2018 | Nashville, TN
Join SAIS and Vanderbilt for a PoCC reception on Wednesday, November 28.

Winter Conference
January 27-29 | Franklin, TN
SAIS Academic Support Conference, SAIS Athletic Directors Conference, MISBO-SAIS Auxiliary Programs Conference & MISBO-SAIS Finance Institute.



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