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Annual Conference Hits Highs in the Lowcountry

Wednesday, October 17, 2018  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS


The 2018 SAIS Annual Conference proved to be an historic occasion, held October 14-16. For the first time, the conference was hosted outside of Atlanta, venturing to beautiful Charleston, SC, where SAIS welcomed 363 attendees, 34 exhibitors, 15 sponsors, and three featured speakers. In addition, SAIS formally announced Debra Wilson to begin her term in July 2019 as the first female president of SAIS. The association also honored outgoing SAIS President Dr. Kirk Walker in a surprise presentation at the conference. 


Dr. Walker was one of three recipients of the SAIS Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Sandra Adams, former head of Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC, and Dr. Bob Shirley, former head of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, SC, both received the award, which is SAIS’ highest honor. 


The conference kicked off with a general session called “Imagine 2028: Next Gen Schools,” a conversation among Bo Adams from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, Tim Fish from NAIS, Brad Rathgeber from One Schoolhouse, Quinton Walker from University School of Nashville, and Debra Wilson from NAIS. They discussed the evolving role of the teacher, changes to the classroom and student schedules, opportunities for collaboration, and the continued importance of the school mission. “We want to create student experiences that are differentiated and more personalized,” Fish said. 


Over the next two days of the conference, attendees chose from 30 different breakout sessions that included topics such as “Moral and Practical Leadership in Contentious Times,” “Branding Is More Than Your School’s Logo,” and “Continuous Enrollment: Considering the Move?” 


NAIS President Donna Orem gave a report during the conference luncheon and also led a presentation entitled “The Third Education Revolution.” NAIS’ Chief Innovation Officer Tim Fish presented a featured session, “Re-Imagining Independent Schools: An Innovator’s Journey.” Another featured session, “Building Our More Perfect Union,” was presented by Dr. Khyati Joshi on the topics of race, religion, and immigration. 


In her keynote address, Dr. Shimi Kang, author and mental health expert, spoke about “Navigating Modern-Day Realities: Stress & Adaptability.” Her timely discussion of stress, anxiety, the drive for perfectionism, and comparison examined the struggles that young people face today. Her solution, which is appropriate for adults as well, is to follow a “POD” prescription of Play, Others, and Downtime. For example, she recommended that teachers start the day in the classroom with downtime – perhaps a quiet activity that students do on their own before they start interacting with others. “When we slow down, we improve focus and attention,” she said. 


Play and time with others are also important. For example, enjoying an activity, away from screens, and getting students to work together on a project related to gratitude can greatly improve one’s emotional state. “The ‘helper’s high’ is a real thing,” Kang said. “Our internal environment of thoughts and emotions is the one thing educators should focus on.” 


"Once again, SAIS developed and executed an outstanding professional experience. The location was perfect, the organization was impeccable, and the presentations were stimulating," said David Perkinson, head of Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, AR. "I left with some key understandings and perspectives about issues we are facing or initiatives we are about to undertake, from concerns about students well-being to deliberations around moving to continuous enrollment. However, what I appreciate the most are the opportunities to engage with my colleagues at peer schools. Conversations in the hallways, at the receptions, or over a meal add depth and value to the entire experience and annually renew my appreciation for the creative talent and energy of educators across SAIS schools."
"Each and every time I attend the SAIS conference, I come away learning something new," said Scotty Jones, middle school principal at McCallie School in Chattanooga, TN. "The division head roundtables are a great way to discuss specific issues and the latest trends facing lower, middle, and upper schools. Sitting with colleagues in the same division has been a highlight of the conference for me. It is helpful to hear and discuss our challenges, while also having a chance to celebrate and talk about the bright spots at our respective schools. In addition, the speakers and session leaders come from a wealth of knowledge and background in independent schools."

SAIS extends heartfelt thanks to all of the speakers and volunteers for their participation in making the Annual Conference such a success. Thank you also to our Gold Sponsors: Carney, Sandoe & Associates, Independent School Management, Mills Uniform Company, and Southern Teachers Agency. 


In 2019, the SAIS Annual Conference will return to the newly renovated Crowne Plaza Ravinia in Atlanta, October 27-29. 

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