Tom Taft of Germantown Academy Named 2021
John Batley Award Recipient

May 5, 2021 - The traditional highlight of the PAISBOA Annual Meeting is the presentation of the John Batley Award, our highest honor. A former CFO of Westtown School and recipient of the PAISBOA Visionary Award -- and the man in whose name the John Batley Award was created -- John’s legacy is one of selfless giving and inclusion in PAISBOA. We celebrate his character, competence, and consistency each year with the selection of the John Batley Award winner.

For 2021, the John Batley Award goes to Tom Taft, Director of Finance and Operations for Germantown Academy. The award is usually presented at the PAISBOA Annual Meeting, but this year's meeting was again held virtually, and Tom was honored via Zoom.

At the end of June 2021, Tom will say goodbye to Germantown Academy, the school he has called his second home for nearly three decades. In that time, he has overseen the school’s financial and operational activities, including maintenance, auxiliary programs, construction, security, the cleaning crew, and the dining service.

“I have only worked for two Heads of School, which is very unusual,” he said. “Under their leadership, I have been able to do the things I wanted, and I have learned so much from both of them because they are supportive, hard-working people with the same goals – to make the best use of our facilities and assets as we can, in order to do our best for GA students and faculty. And… we balanced the budget!”

Current head Rich Schellhas has this to say: “It’s unfortunate that the term Renaissance Man has become overused, because Tom Taft is the truest exemplar of its rightful rareness. Builder, entrepreneur, world-traveler, dancer, polyglot, philosopher, politician, writer, father, grandfather, mentor, humorist, pole vaulter, health nut, serious intellectual – and I haven’t even touched on his actual job yet. Tom has always been a teacher first, whether he’s analyzing a student-athlete’s vaulting technique, GA’s budget, or a staff member’s quandary, Tom commits his mind, heart, and never-ending energy to the endeavor. It has been a privilege to work with and know him. Tom feels as deeply as he thinks, and his journey is just beginning.

“Tom’s office has the very best view on campus,” he added, “and given the late hours he puts in, he has photographed many sunsets from this perfect vantage point. Just as the campus is quieting down, Tom shifts into high gear, and whether he is counseling an anxious family through the financial aid package, analyzing ways to further revolutionize the Health Benefit Trust, or examining every inch and opportunity of a potential future bond issue, Tom is all in, all the time.”

As a longtime PAISBOA member and Board Member, followed by taking on a critical role as Vice-Chair of the PAISBOA Health Benefit Trust, Tom has served an important role in both organizations, and exemplifies many of the qualities that make him the perfect candidate for our highest honor, the John Batley Award.

Martha Scache of Abington Friends School and Chair of the PAISBOA Health Benefit Trustees, said, “I stewed over what I could possibly say that would do justice to Tom and his leadership of the HBT. It is an impossible task so I will keep it simple. When Tom expressed interest in joining the HBT board, we knew we’d be able to put his wide-ranging talents to good use! He immediately jumped in with both feet and agreed to serve as Vice Chair at a critical time in our transition to self-funding and has served as Chair of the Wellness Committee since its inception. The Board will miss his steady hand and keen insight for sure, but we will also miss the nuggets of wisdom he doled out regularly, his eagerness to offer a kind and encouraging word to his fellow board members and staff, and his engaging way of presenting ideas and information to the HBT membership. Tom is truly a renaissance man and it has been a privilege to work with him!”

PAISBOA Board Chair Carolyn Hapeman of Westtown School added, “On behalf of PAISBOA I’d like to thank Tom for his leadership and involvement, and we wish him well in his retirement.”

Tom Taft graduated from Yale in 1971, earned his MBA there, and moved to Santa Barbara to train for the Decathlon. Prior to coming to GA, Tom worked in public finance as an investment banker. “I also worked with a lot of schools,” he said. This helped in the transition as he entered his next career in education, which in addition to his role as Chief Operating Officer at GA, included stints as a teacher in Rhode Island and California. He also helped found the Anacapa School in Santa Barbara. “I taught in elementary schools and middle schools,” he said. “My classes ran the gamut from English to social studies to – of all things – mime!”

Later he started a small residential construction company named Kacion Construction (its motto, although never advertised, was “Kacion Construction – there is no corner we will not cut”). This experience has brought Tom to his next project following retirement. For the past three years he has been thinking and designing and re-thinking and re-designing his dream house. “Starting in July, I’m planning on building an energy efficient house from the ground up,” he said. This will be a net-zero structure that generates more electricity than it uses, heated and cooled by 42 solar panels, with continuous air circulation.

“I’ve been planning this for three years now,” he said. “And I’m doing it by myself – every nail, every stick and floorboard, every window, the siding, everything.” The idea is to create a super-insulated space that his “four children, their wonderful spouses, and my eight magical grandchildren will want to visit for many years to come.”

So how has PAISBOA impacted his career? “To me, PAISBOA is the embodiment of working collaboratively. This association has been a huge help to me, literally from Day One at GA. When I first started here, Al Greenough introduced me to PAISBOA, and I really haven’t looked back. He went way beyond the call of duty, it helped me do my job better, and continues to do so.”

Tom formerly served as a PAISBOA Board member, then a PAISBOA HBT Trustee, and as Vice Chair since August 2017. A major champion for wellness initiatives, Tom helped form and chaired the HBT Health Risk Management committee since its inception in May 2018 through October 2019. He has also served as co-chair of the HBT Plan Design committee since October 2019.

“I’m proud of my work with the Trust,” he said. “We built off what PAISBOA had started, and we’re delivering healthcare the right way, with good plans and wellness programs that are cost-efficient. And we’ve kept premiums under control in these days of skyrocketing prices.”

“It’s been a great ride. I think PAISBOA is a powerful example of what can happen when caring people work together, put their best thoughts together, implement their ideas and plans, and then alter those plans based on what they learn!

“The HBT Trustees have been fabulous, and our members have been nothing but supportive. I’ve enjoyed working together with my colleagues, and I’ve learned so much from everyone. PAISBOA has filled a huge gap in the work of many of our Business Managers. I’ve never been associated with a group – which includes PAISBOA and the Health Benefit Trust – who have looked out for our schools the way they have. It restores my faith in humanity.”

Along with his PAISBOA colleagues, the relationships he has built at GA are among his most precious. His dedicated co-workers -- to whom he gives all the credit – as well as the members of the Finance and Facilities Committees, and the thousands of students who have received financial aid, will miss him greatly as he moves on to the next phase in life. “No one is more deserving of the John Batley Award than Tom!” said his Accounts Payable colleague Stephanie Jennings. “What a wonderful and fitting recognition, of a legacy of service and commitment to Independent Schools. We are going to miss him in his retirement!”

In addition to building his house, Tom’s looking forward to getting back into pole vaulting. “Back in 7th grade, someone showed me what the pole vault was,” he said. “I loved the idea of swinging up in the air and getting myself over the bar. Fifty years ago I broke the Yale record, and I tried to break another one last year for my age group, but COVID kind of squashed that.”

Track and Field has been a major part of his life (his office holds some of his Penn Relays trophies), so with that in mind, what was his favorite accomplishment at GA? “I am most proud of getting to design the GA track. Ours is super different from other schools in the area. I had an epiphany that all of the field events should be close together so no one misses the glory of a throwing record broken, a new height achieved, or a novice’s first jump. Since then, other schools have tried to replicate, but they don’t come close.”

We congratulate Tom on the culmination of a rewarding career and the beginning of this new chapter in his life, and we thank him for his leadership in both PAISBOA and the PAISBOA Health Benefit Trust. His work on behalf of both organizations has vastly improved the quality of life for the students, faculty and staff of his school and the many other schools and universities he has been proud to serve for the past 29 years.

I may be retiring,” he said. But I’m not tired! I still have much more stuff to do. I’m very happy, and I’ve had a very good life!”


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