Shout Out to Kent Bicknell and Recent Book "Stepping Stones"

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If you are looking for a relaxing and thoughtful read to finish your summer, check out "Stepping Stones", available on Amazon here.  Good friend and colleague Kent Bicknell has just released a book that outlines the history of Sant Bani School in. central New Hampshire.  We got to know both Kent and the school very well several years ago as we completed a comprehensive strategic plan for Sant Bani School.  Kent served as the founding head, long-time leader, and resident historian.  

According to Amazon, "Stepping Stones narrates the fascinating history of Sant Bani School and its rapid growth into a dynamic educational day program in central New Hampshire. With a focus on the early years (1973-1978) founding head Dr. Kent Bicknell offers an in-depth account of the spiritual and educational roots of the school as it developed a curriculum based on the understanding that all life is connected. Along with a description of the relation of the school to two spiritual teachers from India, Dr. Bicknell provides a link to the educational theories of the 19th century Transcendentalists, Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Alcotts. Contemporary newspaper articles and photographs from the initial years help bring the story to life. Be prepared to wonder, to laugh, to learn – and to be drawn to visit the school's vibrant campus today ("

If you are a school historian and enjoy the challenges, chronicles, and journey of founding a new school and building an educational philosophy, check out "Stepping Stones".  It is thoughtful and in-depth account of a vital school in the central New Hampshire region.

Revisiting Education, Children, and Poverty in Mississippi

The Mississippi Children’s Museum (MCM) was born in 1994 from the urgent need to improve the health, literacy and well-being of Mississippi’s children. Recognizing a vital need for innovative, creative and engaging educational resources for Mississippi children and their families, and inspired by the success of children’s museums across the country, a visionary group of community volunteers began the extensive process that led to MCM.


Six years ago, ISA completed the first ever strategic plan for the Mississippi Children's Museum in Jackson, Mississippi.  This initiative was an early effort of our #JustCause campaign. We are excited to announce that we will be building upon the heritage and success of the museum by joining with them to build a new strategic plan for the future. 

We believe education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world and solve extreme poverty.  ISA launched the #JustCause campaign in 2011 to raise public awareness and empower organizations using education to solve systemic poverty.  #JustCause has three focus points:  

  1. We promote education throughout our industry as the gold standard strategy for overpowering poverty;
  2. We consult with select organizations on a pro bono basis which use education as their primary strategy to overpower poverty;
  3. We invest financially in organizations that empower promising young people toward higher education attainment.

We are truly excited to be headed back to Jackson this year to partner with this extraordinary organization.  We will be working alongside their board and administrative leaders to build a plan that will empower the next generation of children in the state.  

What if We Created Plans and Didn't Share Them?

Education is a pretty predictable industry.  It tends to follow similar calendars, cycles, processes, and systems.  Sometimes that is a very reassuring attribute.  And, sometimes it can lead us away from thinking differently about our circumstances.


Most schools and colleges spend an average of 9 months to create a strategic plan.  They gather lots of data and input, engage their stakeholders, and then create a set of priorities that were formed from the feedback.  At the end of the process, they build a communication program and launch the new strategic plan to great fanfare.  Hopefully, they follow the plan and implement as intended, communicating with their people all the way.  Five years later, they will probably do it again.  Pretty predictable cycle, right? 

What if we created strategic plans and then didn't share them?  No kidding.  Not with anyone. Instead, we just decided to DO them.  Like major companies do.  Think about Google for a moment.  They don't need a keynote presentation to share their new software.  They quietly engage us for our advice and then, one day, a new product designed just for us emerges.  Some of the new products delight us and others dismay us and they fail.  But, regardless, they are dedicated to the act of DOING, not SAYING, what they are going to do.

Actually, I am not advocating that we stop communicating about our strategic plans.  Good communication plays an important role in closing the feedback loop with our tribe of support, creates a foundation for a campaign, and builds trust in the community.  But, I have noticed that schools and colleges love to tell the world where they are going yet tend to be very slow and inflexible in living out their plans.  Wouldn't it be an interesting exercise to finish a strategic plan and not communicate it with anyone?  And, then, after a couple of years of implementation, go back and ask stakeholders what they think the school or college priorities are at the moment.  That would give us a good sense of whether our actions were speaking for us.

Let's focus more on DOING than SAYING.  We all know that action speak louder than words.  Excellent communication is an important goal in itself.  But, let's not confuse activity with meaning.  People care about what we do, not what we say.

ISA Welcomes First-Ever Summer Intern


Ian Symmonds & Associates is pleased to welcome our first-ever summer intern.  Evan Harrison is joining the Ian Symmonds & Associates team for the summer beginning June 1st. He is currently heading into his senior year at Gonzaga University where he is studying marketing and public relations. He is looking to gain some real world marketing experience and is excited to contribute to the team in whatever ways he can.
While Evan spends most of his time in Spokane at Gonzaga University, he enjoys returning to his hometown of Portland, Oregon for the summer. In his free time you can find him snowboarding, cheering on the Gonzaga basketball team, and exploring the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest.  Evan will be working on project management, conducting some research in the form of demographic and qualitative data gathering, and participating in the outset of some strategic sessions with our steering committees via video conference. 

Edison High School Names President

Edison High Schhol in Portland, Oregon has completed a year long search for a new president. After completing the strategic plan for Edison, ISA is pleased to announce that our search led to the selection of Dr. Sean Preston as Edison High School's new President.


Dr. Preston served as the founding head of school for the John Crosland School, a K-13 institution that serves students with learning disabilities and differences in Charlotte, NC. He has also served as head of school at Cypress Heights Academy, the accreditation team chair for the Southern Association of Independent Schools, and a faculty member at University of North Carolina.

Dr. Preston is a true servant leader and a lifelong educator with a passionate zeal for working with students with learning differences. He brings an immediate sense of vision, collaboration, synergy, organization, and fundraising skills to Edison High School. Congratulations to both Edison and Dr. Preston on this new collaboration.

Pacific Ridge School Selects ISA


Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, California has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and strategic planning services.  Our work will commence in the summer and continue throughout the upcoming school year.  Pacific Ridge joins a small number of independent schools in the greater San Diego region that we have served over the course of our practice.  We welcome Pacific Ridge to our client community.  

Pacific Ridge School inspires curious young minds to be thoughtful, collaborative, and globally-minded by integrating a multitude of intercurricular opportunities with a robust academic schedule. Through an inclusive and innovative approach to acquiring and applying knowledge, students gain confidence and self-awareness—developing into young adults with advanced communication skills who are prepared to drive and design their success in the 21st century.  Pacific Ridge School was founded in 2007 and enrolls just under 600 students in grades 7 through 12.  The teaching style is seminar-style learning, designed to feed an integrated academic program to allow students to address over-arching ethical questions, and to unite content across thematic touchpoints.

Structural Barriers to Innovation and Change

Why is the education industry so immune to significant change?  Our experience and research indicates that the private education industry, specifically, struggles to change in major ways in an effort to keep up with rapidly evolving markets, consumers, and tools.  Why is that and how do we address it?  


Welcome to an age-old question that educational strategists have been attempting to address for decades.  It turns out that we have a lot of structural barriers - or limitations - that we have either self-imposed or have been imposed upon us.  These barriers are numerous and result in choking the innovation and change that we see present in so many industries.  Here’s a list of just some of these long-standing barriers:

  1. Class size - Educators have historically believed that only small classes results in strong learning, driving costs up.
  2. Calendar - The industry followed an agricultural calendar giving summers off, limiting the seasons in which we can deliver education. 
  3. Accreditation - The industry follows accreditation centric rules to good management, creating some unusual practices and policies. 
  4. Tenure - Few industries award jobs for life but colleges still do.  
  5. Business Model - In private education, we have adopted a low volume/high price/selective admission model yet wonder why we have enrollment and accessibility woes. 
  6. Assessment - Arbitrary methods of assessing both student learning and teacher effectiveness still plague our industry.  
  7. Goverance - Our schools and colleges are governed by a model of accountability and responsibility engineered for non-profits over a century ago and has not been revisited or recalibrated.  

So, why don’t we change very quickly?  This is just a small list of the major structural barriers to innovation and change in private education.  There are many others so numerous to list. 

Significant change will not occur in our industry until these barriers are broken down completely allowing new capacity to flow into our models. Most schools and colleges today create plans and manage change on the edges or incrementally. However, there are some innovators in the landscape that are committed to breaking down the barriers and impediments to growth, innovation, and change.   

Pilgrim School Selects ISA

Pilgrim School in Los Angeles has selected Ian Symmonds & Asssociates for research and strategy services.  We are excited to welcome this innovative school in Southern California to our client community.  Our work will commence in May and continue through the summer.


Pilgrim School, founded in 1958, is an independent, co-educational, college preparatory day school for students in Preschool through Grade 12.  The school is in a safe haven cradled in Wilshire Center, 10 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, and attracts a student body as varied as the city's population.  Pilgrim is a city schoool, where individual talents, contributions and skills yield a richer and more dynamic community; where academic skills are applied to real-world challenges and opportunities. Los Angeles is their city. The California Science Center, Disney Music Hall, The Getty, LACMA, Chinatown, the Natural History Museum, the Fowler Museum at UCLA, MoCA, Venice Beach and art galleries, the Endeavour, the Museum of Tolerance, Skirball Center, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Grammy Museum — these are a few of their classrooms.

Kent School Selects ISA


Kent School in Chestertown, Maryland has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and strategy services.  Our work will commence in May and continue throughout the summer.  

Kent School's mission is to guide students in realizing their potential for academic, artistic, athletic, and moral excellence. The school’s family-oriented, supportive, student-centered environment fosters the growth of honorable, responsible citizens for our country and our diverse world.  Kent School is a regional, independent day school serving students from Pre-Kindergarten through Eighth Grade. They accomplish their by setting high academic and personal standards; by having a devoted and highly skilled faculty; and by actively living their community values of integrity, respect, responsibility and friendship.

We are excited to welcome this innovative school to our ISA client family. This project will also serve to reunite our firm with head of school Nancy Mugele, who served at Roland Park in Baltimore, also an ISA client family member.