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Highlights from the 2015 SAIS Annual Conference

Wednesday, November 4, 2015  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

With 43 sessions, 54 corporate sponsors and exhibitors, and two keynotes, the 308 school attendees of the 2015 SAIS Annual Conference enjoyed myriad opportunities for professional development, networking and idea generation to take back to their home schools. The sessions themselves covered a wide range of topics, from LGBTQ issues to branding to ethics to division-specific roundtables for school leaders.

In the first iteration of the Stephen P. Robinson Collaborative Grants Program, the recipients presented their programs in a conference breakout session. Representatives from Bodine School, McCallie School, Girls Preparatory School, Carolina Friends School, The Westminster Schools, The Lovett School and The Master’s Academy shared highlights from their collaborations, which included urban design and revitalization, teacher training, math education, anti-bullying efforts, and community education using funding provided by the grants. The schools were able to join forces in their common missions and make a greater – and even transformative - impact on extremely worthwhile causes, while also enabling students to get more involved with their respective communities. Applications for the 2016 Grants Program are now being accepted at

Speakers throughout the conference earned rave reviews. In Allen Broyles’ (assistant head of The Howard School, Atlanta) session on “The Amazing Minds You’re Missing Out On,” he discussed alternative learning methods and the brain, giving educators ways to reframe their classrooms 

Dennis Chapman, head of The New School (Fayetteville, AR) and Rob DiMartino, director of Finalsite, presented “Leveraging New Media Trends to Engage Constituents.” One attendee called it “perhaps the best session I attended during the conference. The information applied equally to a broad range of schools, regardless of their tech budgets or resources.”

Attorneys from Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani tackled issues of inclusivity and acceptance, offering excellent advice to attendees regarding social, emotional, and public relations issues related to LGBTQ. Jarvis Hollingsworth and Kristin Smith recommended that school leaders have the tough conversations with their boards, examine their mission statements in relation to LGBTQ, and review their handbook policies, dress codes, restroom usage, locker room usage, and even graduation attire. “Make sure that the way individuals are treated in your school community is consistent with the school’s mission,” Smith advised.

The conference offered several sessions related to branding. From “Hey, That’s My Name!” to “Schools Must Think & Act Like a Brand,” attendees were able to learn from experts about differentiating from the competition while also protecting their overall image. In “Brand Diaries: Making of a Mount Vernon Mom,” parent Tiffany Hendryx shared her story about her progress from “buyer to believer” in selecting an independent school for her children.

“How can we attract more of our best-fit families?” asked Allison Toller, chief of brand strategy & partnerships at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. “Best-fit is really a myth. Don’t chase the market – you have to reach families where they are.”

Psychologist and author Catherine Steiner-Adair presented three sessions, examining issues related to children and technology, and the impact on their development. “Lost in Connection,” “Mary Had a Little iPad,” and “The Big Disconnect” demonstrated how children – and schools – have become more and more dependent on devices, but at what cost to their personal growth, behavior and creativity? Steiner-Adair recommended “pressing the pause button” to review tech usage in schools and in homes. Homeroom or advisory times provide a good opportunity for teachers to talk with their students about behavior in different scenarios. Digital citizenship is a huge issue, especially regarding social media and phones. “Kids text because they can control the conversation and they feel safe,” she said. “But you don’t see the impact of your words on someone else. 

Adults as well as children feel the effects of technology and this changed culture.“Devices are so neurologically powerful,” Steiner-Adair explained. “You lose ambient awareness, you lose empathy, and they make us do things we would not normally do or say.”

The conference also included roundtable conversations for heads of lower, middle, and upper schools, as well as small schools and special needs schools – one that was particularly well-received. One attendee stated that it was “most helpful to speak directly to peers about pressing topics.” 

Proposals for the 2016 SAIS Annual Conference are now being accepted. Please visit for more information, and save the dates October 22-24, 2016 for next year’s conference in Atlanta. 


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