The success of a school as a bastion of education and a business relies on many forces, including the influential role of the School Business Manager.

Paul Sjogren, the Principal at Trinity Anglican School (TAS), could not agree more, remarking that “recognition for success in the field of business managers in schools doesn't come along very often”.

Paul nominated Kathy Romano, the school’s Head of Business Services, for the inaugural CommBank School Business Manager Awards as “Kathy is so important to the school and provides such incredible support”.

Commenting on the award win, Paul says, “the fact that Kathy was recognised for her dedication and leadership is very well deserved. She is a financial manager, a business manager, a project manager, an HR manager, a risk manager, a ‘time and motion’ expert, all of these things in that one role”.

Kathy says “I was overwhelmed when I first found out as I didn’t know that I had been nominated until I had won. I am very humbled by the win.”

An innovator in the pacific region

TAS is a regional independent school located in Cairns, Far North Queensland. It has two campuses located 29 kilometres apart, one on the northern beaches catering for students from kindergarten to year six and the second in the southern suburbs catering for students from kindergarten to Year 12.

“The school’s enrolment has grown by 48% since the implementation of the new business plan, with this momentum expected to continue over the next few years. This growth isn’t possible without someone like Kathy driving and facilitating the agenda.” said Paul.

“Geographically speaking, the school is closer to Port Moresby than to Brisbane, and this Pacific region proximity is key to the school’s future potential. We are the pre-eminent school in Far North Queensland, and we would like to explore how can we help people even further north of us access that high-quality aspirational education,” he continued

Paul credits the schools successful business growth in large part to Kathy’s hard work. According to Paul, Kathy has helped establish robust financial and operational foundations that help drive sustainable growth.

Transforming business services

In 2019, Kathy was tempted out of retirement by a six-month role as Head of Business Services at TAS. Since then she has enabled a transformation of the school’s finances, operations and student numbers.

Kathy was heavily involved in developing the school’s new business plan and has set the pace for its digital transformation journey. Paul attributes this to “her remarkable leadership and ability to see things through”.

One of Kathy’s first steps in the role was implementing a large-scale change program. This ambitious endeavour saw a sweeping upgrade of the school’s operations, and by 2020 it was starting to pay off.

From utilising technology to streamline and automate processes, to introducing a ‘cashless’ payment system, Kathy oversaw a raft of initiatives that gave the staff, students and parents a better experience.

Generating growth and building trust

According to Paul, Kathy has risen to the challenges that often face independent schools, including recent changes to government funding. Paul says Kathy’s ability to see a particular process, devise and implement a solution that brings people along on the journey has helped balance the school’s income, expenditure and growth levers.

An example of Kathy’s initiative was implementing a sequenced capital works program to help facilitate increased enrolments. The school commenced building new kindergarten facilities. Kathy explains, “I convinced the Board the growth potential in early education and by building to accommodate more students, we actually manifested the growth we wanted”.

In 2019, each kindergarten campus had only 22 children; today, that figure has almost tripled. “Kathy’s built two kindergartens on time and on budget, which in this environment is spectacular, given the state of the construction industry at the moment,” Paul added. “Our White Rock Kindergarten has recently been rated as exceeding and ranked as one of the top regional kindergartens in regional Queensland, whilst our Kewarra Beach kindergarten has recently been accredited by Nature Play Queensland”.

“Kathy’s success in facilitating change comes from her patience, empathy and excellent communication. Kathy will discuss changes as many times, with as many people for however long is required until people understand,” Paul says. “She listens to feedback and adopts it when it’s going to make the outcome more successful.”

Kathy agrees that “collaboration is essential. “Two campuses mean that even more stakeholders must be involved and brought together to ensure we’re all on the same page”. Kathy recalls how the rapid uptake of digital technology during the pandemic was required to ensure continuity and streamlining of business processes. “The use of Microsoft Teams to run regular meetings remotely really helped build a strong line of communication between the two campuses.”

What makes Kathy so successful is her ability to effectively communicate with all stakeholders. “You need to work with people for as long as it takes; you’ve got to discuss and show them the process so that they can understand all sides” said Kathy.

Unlocking future potential

TAS’ ability to invest in infrastructure, staff and ongoing digital transformation is fundamental to the school’s vision for the future. The next phase of the business strategy is to enable students to unlock their potential and build essential capabilities in this area says Kathy.

Paul agrees, “I am constantly impressed with the immense potential of our TAS community. Our staff and students possess a lot of creativity, they have a lot of ideas and are constantly innovating which is going to be more and more important as time goes on.”