School Supply: An Inside Look at Tips, Trends, and more

As we head into spring, international schools around the world are quickly getting in their orders for next school year’s materials. We caught up with Keith Cincotta (Director of School Services/Senior Leadership Executive, Managed Schools) to learn first-hand from ISS School Supply what administrators should definitely remember during this busy season, what innovative school materials are trending across international education, and much more.

What does this current supply season look like for international schools and School Supply?
This is the busiest time of the year. Almost all the schools want to receive their shipments in the summer when their students are not on campus, so right now, our School Supply team is really focused on getting all the orders together for their schools. Teachers should have their lists of classroom needs submitted, and most schools have sent or are sending their orders. We’re following up with vendors to make sure that what the school ordered is what actually shows up at our warehouse; tracking paperwork requirements, editing orders, redirecting orders to save schools money, working with vendors on availability and back orders; booking containers and ships, and arranging trucks to come to the warehouse; receiving freight at the warehouse, preparing shipments, and sending shipments. Everyone is going full speed. It’s go time!

Do you have any advice for school administrators at this point in the season?
Remember that we consolidate and ship school supplies by ocean, so the earlier we get in your orders, the better. Make sure to plan for how you’re going to store and distribute materials in August. As you think about next school year’s supplies, consider next year’s enrollment or academic additions. Will you have new students in the fall? Make sure to adjust your supply needs to include them. Are you offering new courses, new clubs, new sports teams, or things that aren’t on your order every year? Don’t forget to add them to your inventory considerations. As starting resources, the ISS Back-to-School checklist can help you plan basic school inventory, and the ISS School Supply Supplement offers vendor insights. 

What trends have you noticed lately in school supply orders? 
We are seeing a lot of STEM and maker space orders, specifically flexible furniture that lets teachers adapt and be agile with their class setup. We’re purchasing many robotics items right now; VR goggles are also super popular and 3d printers are big. Sometimes people assume we’re just shipping physical items from the warehouse, but we’re also using our network of suppliers to find digital resources for schools. We’re seeing more orders for ebooks, digital memberships, and subscriptions, online services primarily related to teaching and learning, but also school management systems and software.

Any particular shipments or supply projects of note this year?
We’ve had an exciting project this year with Cayman International School. We’re handling the furniture and fixtures for their new Early Childhood Center that’s opening in August. It’s being built from the ground-up, so we’ve enjoyed helping them pick out furniture, carpets, hardware, playgrounds, and all kinds of cool features that will shape the new space.

There are also always “quirky” orders every season that keep things colorful. We had to buy a large amount of cabling for a school’s construction project; one of the specifications was that it be mouse and rat proof, so we researched cable that was specifically rated for chewing durability against those little guys. This year, we shipped giant scissor lifts, a couple of trucks and tractors, many pairs of Nike sneakers for one school security force…there’s never a dull year when it comes to supplying international schools.

What considerations go into supplying international schools that people new to the process might not know about?

Since the international schools we work with deliver an American or international curriculum, they need materials that they can only get in the US. That’s where our School Supply team comes in to support and simplify the whole process. Many international schools aren’t big enough to have their own purchasing offices, but they can use us as an outsourced purchasing team to go through the planning and purchasing process, plus negotiate savings with vendors. International schools tend to order many small items as opposed to a large number of commodity things. We consolidate school items at the ISS warehouse, then ship and track schools’ items in fewer containers — that’s always good news and savings for our schools. Customs are really different from country to country; documentation requirements change all the time, and if you don’t have it figured out, you can accidentally add considerable time to delivery and cost. On behalf of our schools, the School Supply team puts a lot of our energy and experience into keeping on top of those customs requirements, constantly updating our shipping agent and freight forwarder with paperwork so that schools can get their supplies quickly and efficiently.

Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, Keith! To close, could you share your favorite part about the work you do with ISS School Supply?
My favorite part of supporting schools is hearing about how excited the teachers and kids are when their materials arrive. After managing orders, tracking containers, and ensuring all the shipping logistics work out, we get to know these supplies end on a school’s doorstep. We get to see how vibrant, lively, exciting and fun it is for the school body to use these materials to build up their learning community.

Our School Supply team has been doing this for a long time. We’re really proud of the communities we work with, and we feel grateful for the relationships we develop with the folks at these schools. As something of an extension to the school, we get to help deliver really good programs for their students. That’s something special. 

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