SPARC Symposium

The SPARC Symposium is a signature virtual event designed to elevate your leadership skills and your auxiliary programs. Strategic conversations led by independent school and nationally recognized thought leaders each year focus on themes such as transformational leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion and youth programming design for the future.

  • Engage with colleagues in designing an aspirational future for your programs and your school
  • Join compelling conversations with independent school leaders
  • Collaborate in engaging conversations with other attendees, speakers, and panelists
  • Develop strategic outcomes that inform your future work and priorities
  • Participate in a national, virtual event that connects and elevates our auxiliary community and our schools

Who Should Attend?

The SPARC Symposium is designed to meet the professional development needs of a wide range of independent school leaders.  Recommended attendees include all members of the auxiliary programs department including part-time and seasonal staff, CFO, COO, Heads of School, Human Resource team members, Directors of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusions, and other members of the school senior leadership team. 

Our 2023 SPARC Symposium program and schedule is below. Stay tuned for details about our 2024 Symposium!

Thursday, February 16, 12:00-3:30pm

12:00 -12:15pm EST Welcome from Nat Saltonstall and Karen McCann McClelland
12:15 - 1:15pm EST When Risk and Reward Meet Mission and Culture 
1:20 - 2:20pm EST  Panel Discussion: Hiring and Legal Challenges
2:30 - 3:30pm EST Panel Discussion: Boundaries and Safety Challenges

The importance of creating safe communities that reflect the culture and mission for our summer and school year programs is more critical than ever. Implementing the missions of our schools, we seek to make our Auxiliary and Summer Programs places where students can explore and grow without facing the many safety  risks we see every day in the news and media.  The theme of our 2023 Symposium is to explore how we can best create these safe communities.  We will start off the afternoon with a conversation on the broader landscape and trends we are seeing across independent schools.  We will then dive into two panel discussions around challenges we face in creating those safe communities.  The first panel will explore  hiring and legal challenges while the second panel will review boundaries and safety concerns.  Join us for these powerful conversations.


Session 1: Keynote - When Risk and Reward meet Mission and Culture

Auxiliary programs is where it all happens – and it all happens fast! As the leader, your tentacles can’t be everywhere all at once, so training your entire team to recognize risks and react appropriately, and in a way that is mission appropriate, is a key driver of survival (i.e. your sanity!) and success. We will take a look at a variety of domains of risk and different safety solutions. And - we reserve the right to do the Safety Dance at some point during this presentation!

Damian Kavanaugh, President and CEO, MISBO

Since July 2017, Damian has served as President & CEO of MISBO, the largest regional association for independent school operations professionals. Damian spent the seven years prior to that with SAIS where he oversaw the accreditation and membership programs of the association. Damian has presented and facilitated nearly a thousand workshops to every level of independent school leadership in addition to universities and independent school associations. He has consulted for schools of every size, boarding and day schools, faith-based and secular, innovative and traditional. He has conducted research, published, and presented at numerous state, regional, national, and international independent school conferences on a wide variety of topics related to independent school organizational effectiveness and sustainability. Prior to joining SAIS, Damian spent sixteen years as a teacher, coach, an administrator at The Westminster Schools of Atlanta, GA and Head of School of Cambridge Academy in Greenwood, SC. A near native of Charlottesville, VA, Damian earned both his BA and MA in Latin literature from the University of Georgia, a specialist degree, and a Doctorate In Education (Educational Leadership for Learning) from Kennesaw State University (where his research and dissertation was on independent school governance and the alignment of boards and heads), and the Certified Association Executive designation from the American Society of Association Executives.


Session 2: Panel Discussion 1:15 - 2:15pm EST

Panel Discussion - Hiring and Legal Challenges
News headlines include the latest in campus shootings, DUI of bus drivers, and school staff being accused of misconduct.  Auxiliary and Summer Directors struggle to hire school year and seasonal staff before adding on the additional concerns of background checks, wage laws and benefit requirements.  We are also facing challenges with the Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting and appealing to Gen Z and Millennial job seekers.  Given all of the societal challenges we face today, let’s explore how we can brand and create messaging about the benefit of our programs to appeal to our internal and external communities.   Join us for a conversation as our panel explores the hiring and legal challenges as we try to recruit, retain, and onboard staff.

Moderator: Karen McCann McClelland, Director of Auxiliary Programs, Sidwell Friends School


Grace Lee, Partner, Venable LLC

Grace H. Lee is a partner at Venable LLP where she provides legal counsel and strategic guidance to independent schools on a broad range of legal issues including employee relations, student discipline and accommodation issues, safety and risk management, enrollment contracts, handbooks and policies, abuse prevention and investigations, board governance, and compliance with an ever-changing legal landscape. Grace works collaboratively with business officers, board members, human resources professionals, and heads of schools to advance the mission, priorities, and culture of institutions while meeting business needs and mitigating potential liability. Grace serves as legal counsel to the National Business Officers Association (NBOA), and previously served as NBOA's vice president, legal affairs. She is a contributer to NetAssets Magazine, a frequent presenter, and she co-authored the NBOA publication, Culture Meets Compliance: The NBOA Guide to Assessing Human Resources at Independent Schools. Grace draws from her wealth of experience to conduct training for independent school professionals on a broad range of topics, including effective hiring practices, performance management, appropriate boundaries with students, and prevention of harassment and discrimination. 

Stefan Pollack, Founder, The Pollack Group

Stefan Pollack is president of The Pollack Group, an integrated public relations and marketing firm with offices in Los Angeles and New York. For 30 years, he has managed clients in many sectors, from consumer products and professional services to technology and nonprofits. He has served as president of the Public Relations Society of America, Los Angeles Chapter, and as chair of the Americas Region Board for The Worldcom Public Relations Group (Worldcom), a global partnership of independent public relations firms. He is currently the global marketing chair for Worldcom. Since 2001, he has taught as an adjunct professor at USC Annenberg. He is the author of Disrupted, From GenY to iGen: Communicating with the Next Generation, and is a member of the Forbes Agency Council, where he is often quoted and writes on the topics of social media, PR, marketing, and communications. In 2019, Pollack and his agency established the Noemi Pollack Scholarship at USC’s Center for Public Relations, which annually awards a partial tuition scholarship to an undergraduate student pursuing a major or minor in public relations.  

Damian Kavanaugh, President and CEO, MISBO

See information above.



Session 3: Panel Discussion - 2:30 - 3:30pm EST 

Panel Discussion - Boundaries and Safety Challenges  
As directors, we are entrusted to provide safe communities for our participants and with that comes increasingly complicated responsibilities and challenges.  Beyond the traditional gates and security officers to protect our communities, we need to address supporting students and employees mental health and well-being, abuse and sexual misconduct prevention, boundaries and mandatory reporting, training, compliance and more.   Join this panel discussion to hear about trends across the educational industry regarding how to keep our students safe.  Learn how we can be more intentional and safety oriented in all aspects of our program design and implementation.  

Moderator: David Sullivan, Executive Director, Breakwater Learning


Amy Wheeler, Executive Director, Learning Courage

Amy Wheeler is the Executive Director of Learning Courage, a non-profit organization that works with schools and other youth-serving organizations to reduce and respond to sexual assault and abuse and build healthy relationships. Amy is a life-long educator with over 35 years of experience at boarding and day schools as a teacher, coach, administrator and leader. She knows well the impact of sexual misconduct on students, faculty, staff and institutions and the importance of training and prevention. Her experience on a number of independent school boards also gives her insight into the larger institutional issues that arise from both historic and current sexual misconduct on independent school campuses. A survivor of sexual abuse herself, Amy also understands the survivor experience and the challenges of coming to terms with institutional betrayal and healing and the importance of keeping the survivors at the center of institutional responses.

Marlon Byrd, Joffee Security, Director of Campus Safety and Security, Sidwell Friends School

Marlon Byrd is currently employed with Joffe Emergency Services and serves as the Director of Campus Safety and Security at Sidwell Friends in Washington DC and Bethesda Maryland, where he is responsible for the overall safety and security of the campus communities. He has previously worked as Associate Vice President of Campus Safety at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore MD, and with the Ithaca Police Department in Ithaca NY for 23 years before retiring in 2015 as a Lieutenant. Marlon holds a Bachelors of Science degree from Empire State College and a Masters of Science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. He holds several certifications in Emergency Management and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico Virginia. 

Avery Mann, C0-Founder, SOSThreeSixty

Avery Mann (co-founder) has dedicated his career to the safety of children. At SOS ThreeSixty, Inc. Avery specializes in working with school leaders to implement necessary strategies to create the safest environment possible for children in their care. Avery brings his extensive knowledge of child safety and abuse prevention techniques to his work, building capacity within schools and partnering with school administration on revising and implementing more rigorous safety policies. Avery works with independent schools across the U.S. and Canada, regularly coaching senior leaders on how to implement important changes in their school that protect students. Previously, working with federal, local and international law enforcement, he assisted in bringing hundreds of dangerous criminals to justice – many of whom were on the FBI’s ‘Ten Most Wanted’ list – during his 16 years with the original crime-fighting FOX TV program America’s Most Wanted. Avery also spent five years at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as VP, Communications, publicizing the work of the organization and leading the team responsible for safety education. Before founding SOS ThreeSixty, Inc., Avery was part of the senior team at the Bellevue (WA) School District. He’s also the host of Making The Case: Crimes Against Kids – a podcast that interviews crime survivors, advocates and law enforcement – and provides listeners with important tips on how to keep children safer. As a life-long advocate for child safety and justice, Avery received the U.S. Attorney General’s Meritorious Service Award and graduated with a Master of Science degree with honors, in Justice, Law and Society from The American University and a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Criminology from Simon Fraser University. 


Thanks to Our 2023 Symposium Sponsors

VineyardAppCamp is an innovative tech and entrepreneurship camp that’s partnered with dozens of SPARC schools. In the program, students age 10-18 team up to build and release a real iOS app for their school or a non-profit.    Independent schools turn to NationsClassroom when they're looking for a tour partner with a deeper level of destination expertise and a commitment to service quality that relieves the work and worry of travel for their students.




See the lineup and content from our 2020 SPARC Symposium


"The SPARC Symposium panel discussions were inspiring and well-timed.  I enjoyed connecting with colleagues across the country to share ideas on how we were tackling similar issues in the DEI, staffing and programming areas.  The deep dive discussions were a great follow up and helped keep the conversations going."

  • Elizabeth M.