by Arnav Harve, Staff Writer, January 2022
Looking Forward: The Board and its Strategic Plan
Who gets to decide the future of Nobles — how the campus should look, how much money the school should raise, and what programs the school should prioritize? The responsibility of crafting this future goes to a select few: the Board of Trustees. While their activities are rarely publicized, Board members have had an enormous impact on the Nobles we know today. At this crucial juncture full of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board has recently begun to develop a long-term strategic plan to think about the ways in which the school can continue to thrive in a sustainable and effective manner.
“The Board is charged with governance and long-term strategic thinking to ensure that the Nobles that [students] enjoy today is around for the future,” President of the Board of Trustees John Montgomery (N ‘83) said. In other words, the Board doesn’t run the school — that’s the administration’s job. Instead, it focuses on steering the school in a positive direction and making sure that Nobles stays mission-driven and competitive.
There are 24 Board members — some are parents, many are graduates, and quite a few are both. Only one, however, is an employee of the school: Head of School Cathy Hall, Ph.D. On the Board’s relationship with Dr. Hall, Montgomery said, “Dr. Hall has been hired [by the board] to have a vision of where Nobles is going to go. We’re really here to support that vision […] and the initiatives of Dr. Hall and her administrative team.”
The Board only meets six times per year; in between these meetings, groups called standing committees gather information to inform decisions that are made at the board level. Hall explained the general responsibilities of the Board, saying, “Ultimately, the Board’s key responsibilities include hiring the Head of School, approving the budget and ensuring the integrity of the school’s finances, and partnering with me on designing our strategic direction ahead.” Part of implementing that strategic direction is developing a long-term plan for the future of the school, a process which the Board has just begun.
“Our intention in the long range planning process isn’t revolutionary, but rather evolutionary, to ensure that we are focused on the academic experience for our students,” Montgomery said. With this in mind, the Board has three main objectives for the plan: increasing access and affordability, exploring the school’s size and shape, and improving the student and faculty experience. In order to accomplish these goals, the Board has also created several learning teams composed of its members, each tasked with gathering data and information to inform the Board’s decisions.
One critical priority is increasing financial aid. Every year, several highly qualified, lower income students are denied admission simply because the financial aid budget cannot provide for them. In order to ensure that all students deserving of admission are accepted, the financial aid budget needs to increase at a faster rate than tuition, and for that to happen, the school’s endowment fund (currently $210 million) needs to grow. But by how much?
Part of the job of the Board’s access and affordability learning team will be analyzing financial aid data from the last 20 years, current enrollment trends, and demographic studies to figure out what the magic number of endowment would be where the school could effectively call itself “need-blind.” Another growing affordability issue affects not students, but faculty. “It is increasingly hard for educators to stay for a career in a city like Boston given how expensive it is to live here. Finding ways to support and invest in our amazing faculty being able to afford to stay at Nobles and thrive here for decades to come is one of our top priorities,” Hall said.
In addition to these affordability concerns, the Board is also thinking a lot about the current size of the school population. Just in the last ten years, the school has added 45 students without much intention. According to Hall, the school needs to thoughtfully discuss what size is best for the institution. Hall said, “As we begin strategic planning, we will be asking big questions about the size and shape of our school. What is the size and shape that best fulfills our mission? Are we too big, too small, or just right?” One way that the Board has been exploring this is by studying the benefits and costs of adding a sixth grade, something which they will address in the strategic plan.
At the heart of this entire process is accountability. You may have noticed that it’s not being called a five-year plan or a ten-year plan, just a long-term strategic plan. According to Hall, that was very intentional, as she has seen many schools back themselves into a corner when their goals haven’t been realized after the allotted time. Instead, the Board will use number-based objectives, particularly for fundraising, while also discussing what is the best way that they can hold themselves accountable for their goals.
The Board hopes to finish the strategic plan by late 2022, after which it will be shared with the entire Nobles community and put into motion. Stay tuned for the final release!
Looking at the Last Strategic Plan, 15 Years Later
Nobles last released a strategic plan in 2007, and made a series of strategic goals that have greatly shaped the school to this day. Here were some of their goals:
- Strengthening EXCEL and providing financial aid
- Renovating the Castle (creating what we now call the “New Castle”)
- Building up endowment for more financial aid
- Building the new Academic Center