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FastStats 2016: Heads of Schools

Wednesday, March 30, 2016  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By: Jeffrey Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN

Published: March 2016



In this FastStats, an analysis of important head of school data is presented. 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 experience, gender, race/ethnicity, and teaching duties to determine how they have shifted over time. The second will assess how both salary 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 the NAIS (and slightly less so for the 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, it seems that in the past three years total experience seems to be decreasing slightly. 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 the median experience as a head of school at one’s current school. The data only goes back six years but it is clear that the typical tenure of a head at a given school is relatively short, especially for those of us in the SAIS, where the current median sits at approximately five years. 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 confounding factor to keep in mind for this data, however, is that in any given year there a good number of interim heads of school (maybe 5%?) serving in independent schools and this would undoubtedly would pull the median down.



Figure 3 shows that the head of school position is still male-dominated. For 2015-2016, approximately 33% of NAIS heads are female and 22% of SAIS heads are female. Again, note that year-on-year the SAIS lags behind the NAIS by 10% when it comes to 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 likely 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 were female and 14% percent of SAIS heads were female. Thus, in both the NAIS and the SAIS, the percentage of female heads has increased by just under 10%. 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 4 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 5 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 19% teach in the NAIS as a whole and 15% in the SAIS. 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. This is especially true in the SAIS because the median enrollment for 2015-2016 is 534 students versus 384 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 likely impedes our ability to teach.



As has been reported in other FastStats, Figure 6 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 $238,000 in 2015-2016. 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 = 534) versus NAIS schools (median enrollment = 384), which would (all other things being equal) justify higher compensation.



Similar to salaries, Figure 7 clearly indicates that benefits and other compensation have increased appreciably. 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 11 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 under-represented in the ranks of school heads. It also seems that the role of the Head of School (or President or CEO) has become less oriented toward the classroom, if the decreasing percentage of those of us who teach is any indication. 

Corresponding to the increasing complexity and pressures of the job, the head of school’s compensation has increased steadily and beyond cost of living. 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 it comes to other forms of compensation besides straight salary. Considering SAIS schools generally have more students might add to the disparity. 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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Institute for Heads
June 19-22, 2018 | Asheville, NC
This retreat offers an opportunity for thoughtful dialogue and engagement with colleagues on key issues facing heads of school and their spouses.

Dean of Students Symposium
June 27-29, 2018 | Asheville, NC
Develop a network of peers, discuss best practices on current issues, and gather practical ideas from colleagues.

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