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Ruth Shoemaker Wood on "The Evolving Path to Headship" in Independent Schools

Ruth Shoemaker Wood, PhD, Managing Director at Storbeck Search, recently contributed to The Yield, The Enrollment Management Association’s magazine. 

In “The Evolving Path to Headship”, Ruth shares the reflections of Heads of school who entered their headships from enrollment management leadership positions. She writes about how enrollment prepared them for school leadership and how enrollment roots offer a particularly powerful lens through which to foster community and belongingness on independent school campuses. 

Ruth interviewed four former admissions leaders who have transitioned to headships: Suzanne Buck at Western Reserve Academy, Jim Hamilton at Berwick Academy, Sally Keidel at The Agnes Irwin School, and Tom Sheppard at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. In her conversations with the four Heads, Ruth noticed that three themes emerged, illustrating how an admissions and enrollment background could shape school leadership:

  • The enrollment-trained Head as Artist-Scientist
  • Enrollment as training ground for understanding both the internal and external in critical ways
  • Enrollment as relational, community-minded work at its core

“The best admissions officers are this perfectly balanced artist and scientist,” Hamilton explained. The artist needs to make connections with families and be the face of the school, and the scientist works to understand the data and numbers behind the business.

“It’s not a 50/50 all the time, but it’s this circle that’s always filled at 100% and you can shift the proportions of artist and scientist,” said Hamilton. Ruth notes that this skill translates seamlessly to what is asked of Heads.

Heads also need to recognize both the internal and external landscape of their schools, which is a concept that enrollment leaders understand well. Building community and fostering connectedness are key for independent schools, and that type of work is familiar to admissions professionals.

“Enrollment people think a lot about how to get the community to embrace new families so that they fit well and will stay and be successful. Enrollment people are especially attuned to that, and it spills over into how they think about communicating with the community," said Keidel. Ruth noted how this experience has proven useful in Keidel’s role as a head.

Ruth concludes, "While Heads have historically hailed from faculty and development roots, change is afoot. During this time of political and racial reckoning amidst a global pandemic, against the demographic backdrop of plummeting numbers of private school high school graduates, search committees are recognizing that the stakes are higher than ever when it comes to identifying their next Head. The skill sets needed to remain financially viable and speak in a compelling way to families and the community are changing rapidly. Enrollment professionals have a unique mix of art and science, internal and external understanding, and commitment to fostering community and belongingness. And search committees are taking notice."

As a Managing Director at Storbeck Search, Ruth leads searches for clients in both the higher education sector and the K-12 sector. Her recent independent school searches include Head of Student and Academic Life and Chief Financial Officer at Choate Rosemary Hall; Director of Communications and External Relations at The Lawrenceville School; Dean of Enrollment at New England Innovation Academy; Associate Head for Finance and Operations at Park School of Baltimore; and Assistant Head for Finance and Operations at The Peddie School.

We invite readers to download a PDF of Ruth's full article here
Article reprinted from The Yield Winter 2021 with permission from The Enrollment Management Association. 

Storbeck Search Team Profile

Ruth Shoemaker Wood, PhD

Managing Director

Ruth Shoemaker Wood brings scholarly training and hands-on experience to her understanding of the higher education landscape. Prior to entering the executive search sector, she served as Assistant Dean of Students at New York University’s College of Arts and Science. Before her role in the Dean’s Office at NYU, Ruth worked as a consultant to educational institutions experiencing organizational change and strategic planning challenges.