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2019 SAIS Annual Conference Wrap Up

Friday, November 1, 2019  
Posted by: Anna Taylor
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It was a diverse and dynamic group that gathered in Atlanta October 27-29 for the SAIS Annual Conference. In all, 560 people attended, including 439 school and association leaders, 116 exhibitor and sponsor representatives, and 25 consultants. 170 people were first-time attendees. It was also the first conference led by new SAIS President Debra Wilson, who used her lunchtime address Monday to highlight key challenges facing independent schools. With her knack for trend-spotting, Debra reviewed the demographic challenges ahead and noted that affluent children have now moved into an “at risk” group thanks to the competitive, pressure-filled environment their world has become. Her remarks served as an important catalyst for attendees to examine these issues with colleagues, school leaders, and parents once they return to campus.

Energetic innovator Mike Cobb, head at All Saints Episcopal School in Tyler, TX, encouraged attendees to explore rapid and cost-effective approaches to transform campus spaces and curricular approaches. Strategic planning has its place, but the goal, Mike reminded us, is always a more meaningful student experience. His advice is that we consider those things that we can re-imagine and rework now.

Kathy Pearson of Enterprise Learning Solutions, known for her unparalleled insight into effective executive leadership training, doubled as a stand-up comic, offering wise and funny observations about the challenges of confident decision-making. It’s not waiting to decide once all the data is in, Kathy noted: it’s moving ahead with what you do know, and building an organization with the agility to respond to the unknowns that are sure to present themselves.

Complementing the keynote speakers were a variety of breakouts on teaching and learning, marketing and communications, admissions, leadership, strategy and planning, equity and inclusion, and legal issues. Most were jam-packed with eager participants, many who lingered long after the session to ask more questions of presenters who were glad to take the time to go a little deeper.

We were also privileged to honor one of this year's SAIS Distinguished Service Award winners, Marcia Prewitt Spiller, Senior VP of Academic & Student Life at Woodward Academy in Atlanta.In addition to spending two decades as head of The Children's School in Atlanta, Spiller served on the SAIS Board of Trustees and chaired the boards of both NAIS and GISA. She is currently serving as board chair for The Enrollment Management Association. She has served on over 30 accreditation teams throughout her career. Congratulations, Marcia!

While we gathered much talent and experience and expertise to helm this year’s conference, we know it is our attendees who bring it all to life. Our thanks to each of you for participating so fully, for pushing to improve your insight and skill set in the demanding and evolving world of independent education. We encourage you to share your feedback and look forward to welcoming you to the 2020 Annual Conference in Nashville (Oct 18-20) or another SAIS professional development event very soon.

*Peruse photos of the 2019 Annual Conference here from the SAIS Facebook page.


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Independent School Counselors Conference
June 10-11 | Atlanta, GA

Institute for New Heads
June 12-14 | Atlanta, GA

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