Once upon a time, when we all met up together

Back on 12 October 2019, in the days before the pandemic, I had the pleasure of sitting in a theatre at the International School of Nice alongside admissions colleagues from all around Europe and beyond.

Towards the end of the 2-day conference, a respected colleague stood up on the stage and expressed exactly what had been nagging me for a while.

We have to address the fact that so many of our colleagues – some of the brightest and most talented people we know – are no longer amongst us.

When I finally got home, I continued to reflect on what she had expressed and ended up writing a short blog in Fragments II entitled, Where did all my colleagues go?

Nearly three years later, I know that many of the people who were in the theatre that day have moved on. Some have transitioned to another school or perhaps another position in their school. Many, though, are no longer working in admissions at all.

Over the years, experts – including organisations like the Enrollment Management Association – have tried to measure admissions-related turnover compared to other industry standards. In 2019, apparently, 50% of us did not see ourselves working in admissions within 5 years.

This means that the next time we attend an admissions conference, the chances are we won’t recognise too many of the people seated next to us. It also means that some of the “wisdom” in the room will have leaked to other professions and other ways of making a living.

Of course, I’m not arguing that turnover is bad. Many of us in our schools have experienced the incredible benefits of bringing new people and their fresh perspectives into our teams. For me personally, some of the most innovative ideas have come from colleagues precisely because they don’t have extensive experience of school admissions. Coupled with the wisdom of colleagues that have been around the block a few times, you have a truly dynamic combination.

Every now and again, however, there is a colleague who leaves behind them a gap, not only in a school but in our global international admissions community..

A pioneer that changed the way we were

For the past 20 years, Catalina Gardescu has been the Manager of Admissions and External Relations at the American International School of Bucharest. But, in 2022, she too decided to move on and explore something new.

When I first met Catalina, more than a decade ago, the first thing that struck me was her indefatigable commitment to building a professional learning network that was both affordable and accessible to admissions colleagues across Romania, Poland, Hungary and beyond. Very quickly, however, these occasional “job-a-likes” grew into more sophisticated events that also captivated the attention of international school admissions managers around the world.

So if you ever wondered why we were sitting in that theatre at the International School of Nice back in 2019, the answer is Catalina. Or, if you were ever to ask how the International Admissions Bulletin, which you are reading right now, came into being, it was Catalina that pulled together the very first edition with the purpose of inspiring all of us to read more, write more, and become better.

And don’t just take my word for it. Ask around, like I did.

What was fascinating, but not entirely surprising, was that every single one of the professional colleagues around that world that I spoke to said exactly the same thing. First, they all wanted to acknowledge the enormous debt of gratitude that we collectively owe her. Secondly, they distilled her contribution into three distinct elements.

  • This is a person who believes that admissions is “about people first, not numbers
  • This is a person who believes that admissions professionals deserve a seat at the leadership table and Catalina has that “energy and boldness to make things happen.”
  • This is a person who spoke for us, believed in us, listened to us: “Cat makes people feel seen, heard, and supported.

“Very simply,” as one person signed off, reflecting on her 20 years at the American International School of Bucharest, “Thank you, Cat!”

Catalina Gardescu, second from the right, with a group of admissions colleagues in Seville, Spain

So where do we go next?

In so many ways, it is only normal that we watch people across the profession come and go. But somewhere in the mix, it is important to watch for trends, connect the dots, and uncover the big picture narrative at play. As admissions across the world evolves into a more structured and acknowledged form of enrolment management, we need to better understand how to attract talent into our ranks and also what it takes to keep good people.

In our quest to be more data driven, always focused on efficiencies and bottom line impact, we should also remember that so much of what we do is, in the end, very simple. Admissions is about people. It’s about kindness. It’s about supporting families through a moment of transition in their lives… It’s telling the story of our schools and helping people to find their place in that story.

Catalina Gardescu, like so many others of her generation, knows this all too well and part of me hopes that she will find her way back to another school to keep reminding us of this fact. But if her path takes her now in another direction, we would do well to remember these things.

Talking of paths, many of you will know that I too am moving a step away from this world, embarking on a new adventure. Little did I realise, back in 2019 when I wrote that blog that, in a funny way, I was somehow also predicting my own future!

To read the 2022 issue of the International Admissions Bulletin, click here. If you are interested in contributing to our 2023 edition, please email [email protected]
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