Leadership Spotlight: Steven Smith
ISS Leadership Search was proud to lead the Deputy Head of School for Operations and Finance search for Vientiane International School in Vientiane, Laos. Congratulations to Steven Smith for accepting the position, beginning August 2023!
For the past thirteen years, Steven has worked with independent schools as Chief Financial Officer at La Scuola in San Francisco, Director of Finance and Operations at Keys School in Palo Alto, CA, and as an educational consultant. His endeavors in the nonprofit world span nearly two decades with experiences in education, art and religious institutions. Steven holds an MA in Consciousness Studies and Graduate Certificate in Dream Studies, John F. Kennedy University; MBA in International Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey; and a BA in French/West European Area Studies and Russian/USSR Area Studies from American University.
In this feature, Steven shares his international journey, and the values that guide his strategic understanding of fiscal needs in balance with ensuring a thriving educational community.
What drew you to pursue the world of education? And what drew you into international education specifically?
I suppose the world of secondary education found me. I had always expected to work in education as the final highlight to my professional career. I simply thought I was going to end up in higher education. And yet, it is in secondary education that I have remained for the better part of my professional career. It is in schools that I acutely feel the impact of my work – helping to guide educational institutions as they shape the next generations.
My desire to work in international education is simply a logical next step for me as it brings together two things for which I am passionate – the education of children and the inspiration that comes from profoundly seeing and experiencing the world.
Exploring the Duoro Valley
Congratulations on your new position at Vientiane International School! What excites you about being in this new role and school? What are your hopes?
I believe that VIS sits at an important cross-roads, where the coming years will continue to see its transformation and flourishing. The school stands poised to shine as a wonderful example of how an educational institution can not only be a part of its host nation, but a partner with its host nation. The fact that VIS has taken conscious steps to welcome the Laotian culture into its institution and make that culture an integral part of the school’s work is inspiring to me. While I might be the “numbers guy,” I hope that my work serves an integral role in further strengthening the school’s prominence as an educational ambassador to and a cultural steward of Laos and the broader Southeast Asia region.
Please tell us about your education philosophy and your leadership style. What can your new community expect?
The pace of global change is unprecedented. The transforming landscape before us cannot be underestimated. It is during this season of great change that meaningful connection needs to be maintained. Deep respect for the dialogues and perspectives that connect us and appreciation for the unifying factor that is our humanity are paramount.
Schools offer just such a unifying place – an oasis for children and families. In this increasingly hurried world, schools need to allow for the “slow movement” to be a guiding force where human connection allows for compassion, empathy, laughter and joy; where exploration and curiosity are valued partners in educating every child.
Embracing the qualities of compassion, respect, honesty, and integrity rest at the core of my personal and professional being. My goal will always be to bring a strategic understanding of the school’s fiscal needs in balance with the need to ensure a thriving educational community.
What is an interesting fact or story about you that you would like to share?
My travels have taken me to many sacred sites around the world. From the Golden Temple of the Sikhs and Dharamshala, to the Great Pyramids and Upper Egypt, to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and to Bali, among others. I have taken these journeys not so much as a tourist but as a pilgrim connecting to the great mysteries of these ancient lands. Experiencing places as a pilgrim has allowed me to fall deeper into the experience of the ineffable and transcendent – qualities of being that are difficult to quantify, just as difficult to forget, and always transformative.
Vientiane International School
Finally, what was your experience with ISS Leadership Search like?
Working with ISS was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. I found that ISS took care and patience in understanding who I am as a candidate and as a person. They genuinely were interested in me as an individual and wished to showcase my broad professional and personal experiences. Simply, they looked at my candidacy holistically. That was refreshing.
Many thanks to Steven for these reflections! We look forward to seeing his role at VIS support the community’s success, driven by the compassion, respect, and integrity core to his vision. You can follow Steven’s journey on Linkedin.
If you’re interested in pursuing a school leadership position, please check out our current leadership searches or get in touch with the ISS Leadership Search Team.