The Director of Advancement at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School has the power to kindle the flames of opportunity, spark the spirit of innovation, and lead the way to a future where every student can reach their full potential. Today, we have a special guest joining us: Suzanne MacLeod, the Head of School at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School. Suzanne sheds light on a groundbreaking new role recently introduced by her and her team—the Director of Advancement at KGMS. In this episode, she breaks down the details of this innovative position and explains how it helps shape the future of the school, foster growth, and create extraordinary opportunities for the entire Maplewood community. Suzanne also spares no detail in sharing what the ideal candidate would have to be like for this innovative position. Join us as we dig into the heart of the matter, uncovering the motivations and vision behind the establishment of this groundbreaking role.
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Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School With Suzanne MacLeod, Head Of School
I’m here with the Head of School from Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School, Suzanne McLeod. Welcome, Suzanne, to the show.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about the Director of Advancement role at Kenneth Gordon, KGMS, which is a new role that’s been initiated by you and the leadership. We’re going to talk a little bit about the role specifically and we’ll get into a few questions as we go. First and foremost, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me during what must be a very busy time during the school year as the school year winds down as leaders and teachers and students alike must be thinking about summertime.
The students and the teachers are thinking about summertime. Us in leadership, our brains are already in September. For them, it’s an ending. For some of us, it’s a beginning.
Let’s look ahead then but let’s start off with the present, the here and now. Tell me a bit about Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School. For people that aren’t familiar with it, can you tell me a little bit about the school and its mission?
Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School has been around for a long time. It’s an inclusive education environment. By inclusive, it means that we accept students with ministry designations. A designated student is a student who has either a specific learning difference or may be on the autism spectrum or has ADHD. We don’t limit ourselves to any one particular designation or student. We’re looking for the right fit. We are the right fit for a number of students that flourish in an environment that’s very individualized. We’ve been here on the North Shore for years and in this wonderful community and have become an important part of the North Van community.
When you talk about fit and individualized education, maybe you can tell me a bit more about what that looks like. Is there a representative sample or student to help illustrate what the continuum of education and practice might be at the school?
We get our students in the intermediate years. The majority of them intermediate in middle school and they’ve come from typically public education environments. Sometimes other independent schools. They maybe haven’t had what they consider the right education or education specifically designed for their child. Most of our parents, most of our students, even some of our older students who are advocating for themselves are talking about that place where they can flourish and that the teachers know how to teach and that we’ll teach to the way they learn.
I love that flourish piece because that’s we want one what we want our children and students to do, to flourish, grow and thrive. Let’s talk a little bit about you, Suzanne. You’ve rejoined KGMS after being a few years away. Not to put that lightly necessarily but I know you had a previous tenure in your career at KGMS. What brought you back to the school?
To give a bit of background, I worked in the public education system, everything from Kindergarten to Grade 12. I’d experienced segregated and inclusive environments. At some point, I thought I wanted to experience a change. I went exploring and Kenneth Gordon was there. I was familiar with what they do coming from the world of Special Ed. I was looking for that environment at the time that embraced individualized education.
I wanted something different. I spent about three years here and then went off to continue my education and broaden my experience at some other independent schools. I had one eye always looking over my shoulder thinking, “I’d like to go back to that community.” I still stayed connected to many of the friends I’ve met here and follow some of those students through those people. When the position came out of Head of School, it seemed like an interesting opportunity and one that I immediately started working towards and I was lucky enough to be offered the position here.
I’ll ask one more question about you and your style, I suppose. The director is going to be reporting to you. How do you want to work with this person? What is your leadership style like in terms of how you work with your leadership and your fellow administrators?
We’ve developed a good leadership team here based on a shared vision. I believe in honesty. I’m new to this environment. Many have been here for many years. I know that things have been tried over and over again. If somebody has a new idea, I’m happy for them to point out, “Maybe you’re not on the right track.”
I want staff that can speak their mind that comes from a place of experience and can help us build. I want to be a leader that works alongside my staff. I also want to be able to have them know their job, develop their job and take the initiative on their own. I don’t like to micromanage. Also, we love a great sense of humor. We have a very unique environment and things come up from day to day. Having a great sense of humor. We like to check in with each other and make sure that we’re all in the right mindset.
I’m certainly getting that sense of working from you, that sense of humor is important. I like that piece about working alongside, particularly when you’re hiring a subject matter expert. Somebody you want to bring in to lead you, guide you, build the program, but you’re going to be a key fundraiser, a key leader as this program develops too. Maybe we’ll pivot a little bit to the director, for that matter. When you think about the Director of Advancement, what in your mind is this person ultimately responsible for? What are they going to be doing?
I come from other independent schools and I have that vision of how those people have done the job before. Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School has a very unique opportunity. We’re a nonprofit. We are a special education school. We’re tuition-based because we are an independent school, but so much of our revenues go into our student services like our one-to-one, our educators, our support people, our speech and language pathologists, our occupational therapists and behavior management.
We’re looking for someone who can bring a different skillset. Someone that can complement our team. We have such a hardworking team. We have our person that’s presently in a role that would work alongside this piece person, but they do so many things. We’ve come to the point we have grown as an organization and we need more specialized skills. We’re looking for a person who can complement what we already do well.
Many things we do well, but we are noticing over the course of 2023 that we have some gaps in our knowledge. We’re looking for someone to join our team who brings that different outlook. The Director of Advancement, they are writing grants and raising money but also working with our marketing, our communication and making sure that the image we’re putting out to the world is the one we want.
We want to make Kenneth Gordon a little bit more well-known. People know us because they search us. They’re looking for a specific educational environment. I would like us to be a little bit more mainstream in that. People know who we are. If you say Kenneth Gordon or you drive by, you say, “That’s that great school that does great work.” I don’t think we have that now, but we need someone to come on to our team to help us direct that. Many of us are very much tied up in the administration or the education side. We need somebody to help us in that direction.
There’s certainly tremendous opportunity in this space as well. We’ve talked a little bit about the opportunity to build a program because there aren’t necessarily people with significant expertise in this space, but there’s also a history of success in some ways. There are some very successful or very generous parents that have helped out in the past. There’s a gala, golf tournament and some of these initiatives.
There’s a strong volunteer base of parents that feel very passionately about the school. I’m certainly a parent that feels passionately for the school that has benefited firsthand from the great education that Kenneth Gordon delivers. It’s working within those communities and expanding it broadly by the sounds of things as well.
Also, having someone who has the time and the knowledge and the personality to continue those connections, to connect to those amazing people that continually support us through their donations. A lot of our fundraising go towards bursary, but we have other needs as well. Someone has to make those connections within the community and nurture them. We’re very busy and I don’t feel that we’re giving those people the respect they deserve. My hope is that we can do that.In schools and organizations, someone has to make those connections within the community and nurture them. Click To Tweet
One thing I would want to reinforce as well is the commitment to this person’s success throughout the school as well. The board I’ve spoken to have lots of conversations with the board chair, other board members, other staff leaders and teachers. There’s a keen interest in seeing this person succeed, but there’s an element of don’t know what we don’t know either. This person’s going to be able to come into an environment that’s keen to succeed and help where they can. At the same time, appreciating that not everybody has the same skills and connections to contribute in the same way.
We’re lucky enough to be connected to ISABC and CAIS. There is a lot of opportunity for connection with peers and learning opportunities. We find that those schools are very collegiate. They share and can collaborate.
Tell me a bit more about inclusivity because you mentioned you’re a school of inclusivity at the beginning. When you think about the workforce you’re creating, the student body is quite diverse in and of itself as well. When you think about creating an inclusive and diverse workforce, what does that mean at KGMS?
It looks a little different at KGMS. Neurodiversity is diversity. A lot of the staff that work here are drawn because they have a personal connection. They very much believe in what we do, whether they may have struggled with something growing up or they had a brother or a cousin. Most people are drawn here for a reason. I don’t think you stumble into special education. It’s something you have a passion for. In that way, we are diverse. It’s a goal of ours to try to have our staff also being diverse and that reflects our student population. We still have some work to do there but because it is a unique, niche education experience, it is something that we have to continue to work on.
Many organizations do and so many organizations are very mindful of it. Acknowledging that there’s work to be done, there is the first step fundamentally when it comes down to it. Anything else you want to say around work culture, for that matter? We’ve talked about your leadership style and the kind of culture that you have in the school. Anything else you are trying to create in terms of a work culture environment?
Everybody in this building is dedicated. They have a shared mission. They’re here for the students. We’ve talked about it before. You have to come with a good sense of humor. You have to come with the ability to go with the flow. My hope would be that this person could come in and much like the other people on the team, become an integral part of the day-to-day operation of the school, know the students and the parents. In education, it’s not the person sitting at the front desk or the head of the school. We’re all working and we’re all part of this community. That’s very important at KGMS.
Suzanne, tell me, how does somebody earn a gold star in your organization? What is it they have to do to get the accolades and the commendations, if you will?
The gold star might be different depending on your role, but that coming in and being willing to roll up your sleeves, do the work, and understand that in a small organization, we often wear many hats and sometimes you have to jump in and help your colleague along the way. Someone who gets involved and understands who our student body is and puts their needs and their family support foremost in what we do. We want to see the school grow. We need to work on facilities and on our educational program. Somebody who’s willing to take that journey with us. We’re a growing organization. We’ve been here for many years, but we still have a lot of opportunities for change.In a small organization, we often wear many hats. Sometimes, you have to just jump in and help your colleague along the way. Click To Tweet
In closing, you’ve alluded to a few things here, but what are the most compelling or what are some compelling reasons for someone to come join you at KGMS?
We have a great team. We all bring different skillsets. In education, we talk about our strengths and our stretches. We all have strength and stretches, but we know what they are. We’re happy to have someone come in to help us develop those strengths and maybe point out some of the stretches and places we need to grow to.
It’s that growth mindset, that opportunity to build out a program. To grow themselves in parallel to that is going to be exciting. Working with you as Head of School, working with a keen and excited board and staff is going to be an exciting opportunity as the school grows. You alluded to a few priority projects. Part of the role is also to figure out what’s next on the horizon, what donors might get interested in funding, and what the community capacity is for these kinds of initiatives.
Great. Lots to take in. If anybody’s interested or curious about the role, I encourage people to reach out to me to learn more at Christoph@TheDiscoveryGroup.ca or connect with us on LinkedIn. You’re very public through the KGMS website and Instagram feed and web feeds and all that wonderful stuff too. There’s lots of information about the school and the opportunity out there. We certainly encourage interested or curious people to reach out and explore.
Thank you again for your time, Suzanne. I appreciate this. I know we’re recording toward the end of the school year. I thought the school bell might go off when we’re talking here, but we’ve been lucky in that respect. I appreciate your time and looking forward to bringing some excited people forward for further discussions.
Thank you. We are excited to see some incredible applicants.
Excellent. Thanks very much.
- Suzanne McLeod
- LinkedIn – The Discovery Group
- Instagram – Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School