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FastStats 2018: Demographic and Compensation Data for Heads of School

Wednesday, February 21, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By: Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN

Published: February 2018



As a follow-up to previous FastStats on similar topics (see Leadership and the Educational Background of SAIS Heads and FastStats 2016: Heads of School) this article highlights recent trends regarding experience, gender, race / ethnicity, teaching duties, and compensation for SAIS heads of school.

Figure 1 shows the 18-year trend data for both the median total experience as a head of school and the median years of experience at a current school. For both the NAIS and SAIS schools, the general trend has been a modest decrease in the median years of experience. Although the median total years for experience for all NAIS heads has been stable (15 years), the median total experience for SAIS heads has decreased from 19 years to 15 years (21 percent). Similarly, the median experience of heads in their current school decreased from 7 to 6 (14 percent) in NAIS school over the last 18 years and from 7 to 5 (28 percent) in SAIS schools.

The typical tenure of heads at their current school is relatively short, compared to other professions. This is especially true for those of us in SAIS, where the current median is five years. As I noted in a previous FastStats, most leadership and organizational gurus would say that organizations, all other things being equal, would benefit from greater leadership stability, not indicated by this data. A mitigating factor to perhaps keep in mind, however, is that in any given year there is an increasing number, it seems, of interim heads of school. I do not have data to support this; however, if it is true, the decrease in experience could be explained by this very fact. 

Figure 2 shows that the head of school position remains male-dominated. For 2017-2018, approximately 36 percent of NAIS heads are female and 23 percent of SAIS heads are female. Note also that SAIS has lagged behind NAIS by approximately 10 percent annually, when it comes to gender parity. The disparity between males and females in this category is a statistical curiosity considering the highly disproportionate number of females who are teachers, still the most likely background for heads. The silver lining, however, is that over the past 18 years the percentage of female heads has seen a modest increase. In 2000-2001, 33 percent of NAIS heads were female and 19 percent of SAIS heads were female. Thus, in both the NAIS and the SAIS, the percentage of female heads has increased. Clearly, however, there is a long way to go before parity is 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 percent of heads identify as caucasian, this is exactly the same as three years ago. Perhaps a humble sign of progress is that 18 years ago non-caucasian heads were at a virtually non-existent 3 percent. A close examination of the data indicates there seemed to be significant progress made from 2006 to 2010, but before that, and since then, the percentage of non-caucasian heads has not increased.


Another interesting demographic category to investigate is whether heads teach and how this has trended over the years. Figure 4 clearly indicates a steady drop in the (median) percentage of heads who report that they have some kind of teaching responsibility. In 1997-1998, just under 30 percent of all NAIS heads and 22 percent of SAIS taught. Today 16 percent of NAIS and 15 percent of SAIS heads teach. This reflects a drop of 44 percent and 32 percent, respectively.



A number of factors may explain this strong trend. First, independent schools have become bigger and more complex in almost all ways (including enrollment and staffing) in recent years. No doubt this alone has put pressure on heads to stay out of the classroom. This is especially true in SAIS because, as mentioned, the median enrollment for 2017-2018 is 600 students versus 370 in the NAIS. 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 competes with our ability to teach.

As reported in a previous FastStats, Figure 5 indicates that salaries for heads of school have increased at a healthy and steady rate over the past 25 years. With CPI taken into consideration, the median salary of a NAIS head of school has increased 178 percent, from about $90,000 in 1994-1995 to $249,478 in 2017-2018. When comparing NAIS and SAIS schools, the differences are clearly in favor of NAIS heads. However, you also must consider that SAIS heads live in a typically more affordable region of the country. On the other hand, SAIS schools are typically larger than NAIS schools, which would (all other things being equal) justify higher compensation.

Figure 5 also shows the value of the total compensation package for NAIS and SAIS heads. This is an an amalgamation of all forms of compensation. Over the past 13 years, the total compensation of both NAIS and SAIS heads has increased approximately 14 percent, adjusted for CPI. The difference between NAIS and SAIS has remained steady.



In summary, perhaps 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 most of the last 20 years. However, in the past three years there has been decrease in median experience, perhaps because of an increasing number of baby boomers retiring. Perhaps that 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 the role of the head of school has become less oriented toward the classroom, if the decreasing percentage of those of us who teach is any indication. This external focus, might also partially explain the steady increase in compensation for school heads. 



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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