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3 School Leadership Tips from Barbara Daush

Posted by Scott Barron on Jan 14, 2016 6:22:21 PM
Scott Barron

3 School Leadership Tip

To be the best it makes sense to learn from the best. Barbara Daush has served as the President at St. Agnes Academy - St. Dominic School for the last 22 years. Very few have achieved the level of success and influence that she has established during this illustrious career.

To understand the full scope of her school leadership, consider that Barbara is:

* Currently serving as the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS)
* Was named the 2014 CEO of the Year by MBQ Magazine
* Is a member of the inaugural class of the Memphis Business Journal's Super Women in Business in 2012
* Is a member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools (TAIS)
* Is past president of the Memphis Association of Independent Schools.

Most impressively, Barbara is a professional who models the utmost in determination and class. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious, enabling her to build a wide network of influence and impact.


I recently had the privilege of interviewing Barbara online in order to share some of her wisdom with other current and aspiring school administrators. Below is a summary of our conversation. Her key points are:

1. Every school head should have a mentor or two that provides coaching and guidance.
2. Talk openly and honestly with your board, setting appropriate parameters for decision making and leadership.
3. Fundraising should be fun, where you get better with practice.

Q: If you could go back to when you first started as a school head 22 years ago, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?

First, I had wonderful mentors along the way, and I had a one year interim headship at a previous school so I had learned how to set a budget and how to work through difficult issues. I then had a wonderful mentor at The Hutchison School, Jack Stanford, who was my role model. So I was very fortunate.

Looking back, I was as prepared as I could have been, but I think it's very important for school heads to have a mentor, to have someone they can talk to, so you can ask, "Is this crazy?" or "What do you do about that?" I think that is very important for all of us school heads.

The local school association should be a primary source for mentorship, particularly the special events and social events. You get to know each other on a personal level, and that has been critical to my years here. We have a very healthy, city-wide relationship.

Q: What suggestions or tips can you offer to help other school heads foster a healthy relationship with their boards?

Start by sharing the mission very openly--this is the most important thing that you share. You have to really believe in that mission or I find that nothing else really falls together properly.

Board members generally have a hard time understanding the difference between day-to-day operations and visionary, strategic decision making. The school head has to be brave enough and strategic enough with the board chair to set those parameters so the members understand what we do and what we don't do. I've been very fortunate to have very involved but very hands-off board chairs throughout all of my years. They've never been intrusive, and that's because we have open dialog from the very beginning.

Our board attends training through NAIS, SAIS, etc. It's been a treasure to have such dedicated board members. You have to treat them with respect to get respect. Talk honestly and openly with your board chair. Changing board chairs should be flexible based on what is going on at the school and making the best decision for the health of the school.

Q: What about fundraising--what are the skills and/or materials that make a head most effective at fundraising?

Start with the basics, then make sure you really believe in the mission. Fundraising is just telling a story in which you deeply believe. Fundraising should be FUN. One previous administrator said I wouldn't be successful at fundraising, but I'm very competitive and was determined to learn from the best and be the best. I was introduced in a way that didn't make scary. It takes practice, but you can become really good at fundraising.

We wish Barbara great success as she transitions to a new leadership role at Ole Miss. Her alma mater will certainly benefit from the charisma and professionalism of this talented lady.

Topics: Administration, Leadership

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