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FastStats: 2015 Heads of School Trends

Wednesday, January 14, 2015  
Posted by: Sarah Stewart
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By: Jeffrey Mitchell, Currey Ingram Academy

Published: January 2015

This FastStats presents an analysis of important head of school data. The purpose is to reveal trends over time and to provide heads with some valuable comparative data. The analysis has two parts: the first will summarize seminal demographic variables including total experience, gender, race/ethnicity and teaching duties to determine how they have shifted over time; the second will assess how both salary and benefits and other compensation have trended over time.

In terms of (median) total experience as a head of school, Figure 1 indicates several trends. First, total experience as a head of school in NAIS (and slightly less so for SAIS) increased abruptly from 1994-1995 to 2001-2002 from about 9 years to about 16 years. After 2001-2002, total experience of heads of school has remained consistent. Although it’s too early to tell if there is a trend, looking at past two years, total experience seems to be decreasing. Trends in experience might be explained by the “bubble” created by the baby boomers coming through the ranks. Baby boomers retiring in greater numbers might also help explain recent decreases in experience. That is, a disproportionate number of more experienced heads are beginning to retire and they are being replaced by younger heads.  

Figure 2 shows that the head of school position is still male-dominated. Currently, approximately 33% of NAIS heads are female and 22% of SAIS heads are female. Again, note that year-on-year SAIS lags behind NAIS by 10 percent in gender parity. Cultural conservatism is perhaps the largest single factor for this result. The disparity between males and females in this category is especially curious considering the highly disproportionate number of females who are teachers, still the most common background for heads. The silver lining, however, is that over the past 20 years the percentage of female heads has increased. In 1994-1995, 25% of NAIS heads and 14% percent of SAIS heads were female. Thus, in both NAIS and SAIS, the percentage of female heads has increased by just under 10%. However, there is clearly a long way to go in order for parity to be obtained.  

In terms of race and ethnicity, the story is similar to gender. Figure 3 shows that the head of school position is statistically dominated by caucasians. Currently, about 90% of heads identify as caucasian. Again, a silver lining is that 15 years ago non-caucasian heads were at a virtually non-existent 3%. A close examination of the data indicates there seemed to be significant progress made from 2006 to 2010, but before that, and since then, percentages of non-caucasian heads have remained flat.

Another interesting demographic category to investigate is whether heads teach and how this has trended over the years. Figure 4 clearly indicates a drop in the (median) percentage of heads who report that they have some kind of teaching responsibility. In 1994-1995, just under 40% of heads taught. Today the percentage is 20%. A number of factors may explain this strong trend. First, as reported in other FastStats, independent schools have become bigger and more complex in almost all ways (including enrollment and staffing) in the past 20 years and this might be putting pressure on heads to stay out of the classroom.  Second, the head of school position seems to have become more externally focused. That is, implicit and explicit expectations to spend more time raising money and cultivating relationships with donors likely impedes the ability to teach.


Figures 5 indicates that salaries for heads of school have increased at a healthy and steady rate over the past 20 years. The median salary of a NAIS head of school has increased well over 100%, from about $90,000 in 1994-1995 to $225,000 in 2014-2015. Even when CPI is taken into consideration, the increase has been dramatic. In comparing NAIS and SAIS schools, the differences in median salaries are not that great, especially if you consider that most SAIS heads live in the southeast - typically a more affordable region of the country. On the other hand, SAIS schools are typically a lot larger (median enrollment = 600) versus NAIS schools (median enrollment = 450), which would (all other things being equal) justify higher compensation.

Similar to salaries, benefits and other compensation have increased appreciably (Figure 6). This variable includes an amalgamation of all other compensation that heads can receive in the form of benefits (e.g., housing) and other types of compensation (e.g., deferred). Note that data was only available for the past 10 years but the trend is clear. Also, note that the difference between NAIS and SAIS schools is very clear, with NAIS heads receiving a steady $5,000 more annually of this type of compensation.

In summary, due to a large number of talented folks coming through the ranks from the baby boomer generation, years of experience for heads of school has stayed steadily high for the past 10-15 years. It seems, however, we are on the cusp of a decrease in this trend with an increasing number of baby boomers retiring. Perhaps, as this happens there will be greater opportunities for both females and non-caucasians, who both remain underrepresented in the ranks of school heads.

It also seems that Head of School (or President, or CEO) rather than Headmaster, might be indeed be a better job title for our position, considering the rather dramatic removal of the school leader from the classroom in the past 20 years. In keeping with this more corporate orientation of the school head’s role, the compensation has become more corporate in its generosity. However, despite the fact that both NAIS and SAIS heads of school have made substantial compensation gains, SAIS heads are still behind their NAIS counterparts, especially when size of school and other types of compensation are considered. However, much of that difference might be mitigated due to regional cost of living differences.

Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell is the Head of School at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, TN. He can be reached via email at


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