The Importance of Principals and School Business Managers
We have been working in the New Zealand education industry for over 20 years. During that time, we have recognised that two critical roles in New Zealand schools are the Principal and the School Business Manager (SBM). These roles serve to improve outcomes for students and the community but have different portfolios to focus on to enable this. From our experience, schools that have a visibly great working relationship between the Principal and School Business Manager operate more strategically and reach their goals faster.
We recently sat down with the President of the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ), Vaughan Couillault, and the President of the School Business Managers’ Association, Troy Gerbich to explore the key elements of this critical working relationship.
As Papatoetoe High School’s Principal, Vaughan oversees the daily activities and operations within the school. His responsibilities as a Principal include providing professional leadership and creating a learning environment that fosters a school culture on enhancing learning and teaching.
Troy is the SBM at Palmerston North Girls’ High School. In his role, he supports the Principal and School Board in operating a safe and effective learning environment for students and staff. This involves but is not limited to managing finance, property, human resources and health and safety operations.
The Leadership Team and School Business Managers
Each school has its own “best fit” for their SBM, depending on the school’s strategic planning outcomes and the structure of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). When asked how he fits into his SLT, Troy said,
“I work alongside the Senior Leadership Team in providing advice and support around the areas of my responsibility without unnecessarily crossing over into their areas of responsibility.”
He went on to explain that in other schools, his colleagues sit on the SLT and that works well for them. This is the case for the SBM at Vaughan’s school, where the SBM is a member of the SLT.
“It’s important to acknowledge the direction the school Principal chooses to lead and to compliment that with our specialist skill set” said Troy.
The day-to-day working relationship
As a Principal, Vaughan outlines that he has a meaningful, decision-making based interaction with his SBM at least twice a day. His SBM is also very happy to get involved in the wider life of the school and is a full, active, valuable member of the SLT.
Troy also has a great day-to-day working relationship with his Principal. Troy says he is,
“Privileged to be working with and for an experienced Principal with vision, who understands the value of people working to their strengths.”
Troy believes this model allows for increased creativity, innovativeness, and opportunities for staff to excel in their chosen field of expertise. It also complements the requirements of an effective management team by being able to always keep both hands on the wheel and allow for improved fiscal management practices.
What makes an effective School Business Manager?
As a SBM himself, Troy believes that
“There are some core skills that will allow a SBM to settle in swiftly and make a positive contribution to any school immediately. These are financial or accounting experience, payroll knowledge and understanding, and previous school working experience.”
“Other specialist skills that are highly valuable are project management experience, systems and database management, health and safety qualifications and human resource management skills” He continued.
Beyond functional skills and experience, Troy highlighted that he believes the greatest quality for a SBM to have is effective communication.
As a Principal, Vaughan finds that having a SBM is not only beneficial from a financial standpoint but also brings a slightly different perspective to discussions as they are not usually viewing things through a teacher lens. Vaughan finds this valuable as his SBM also helps significantly in lightening his workload so that he doesn’t get snowed under by the mechanics of finance and property.
“I am liberated, somewhat, to focus on leadership and innovation in those areas,” said Vaughan.
Working with partners and the community
When talking with Vaughan and Troy, we not only wanted to understand the working relationship between Principal and SBM but also how that changes when working with partners such as New Era Technology.
Troy expressed the importance of collaboration when working with partners.
“When working with New Era, we have recognised that it is important for both the Principal and the SBM to be involved in the strategic discussions, and often, teaming up in those all-important meetings,” said Troy.
He further explained that once the strategy was set, the day-to-day management of issues often shifted to the SBM. Allowing the Principal to focus on other matters of importance and only be brought into a discussion when there are matters of strategic significance.
Similarly, Vaughan operates in a similar way with his SBM.
“My SBM has a good handle on how we want things to roll around here, so again, this frees up time for me to be more strategic and higher level in my interactions and thinking” he said.
“When we get to strategic stuff, we tend to bring more of the SLT on board as we all know the more ‘big brains’ we have looking at an issue the more likely we are to find a suitable solution” he continued.
At its core, the relationship between the Principal and the SBM is based on interaction and communication. The Principal and the SBM work together (with regular and open discussions), often within a larger team (the SLT), to ensure that the best possible student learning outcomes are achieved for the best financial outlay and within the approved school budget. After talking to Vaughan and Troy, it is obvious that having a quality working relationship between the Principal and SBM is integral to providing an enriching education for students.