The ISM Faculty and Management Compensation Survey, 2011–12: School Head Salaries


The School Head is the sole employee of the Board. Management of the Head’s compensation is a high priority, and the Board must be fully conversant about trends in Head compensation. Only then can the Board determine what adjustments are needed to ensure that the school retains the Head, or to enhance its ability to be competitive in its next Head search. Trustees must educate themselves about the marketplace and understand the complexities of the School Head’s job.

ISM surveyed a random sample of I&P subscriber schools concerning compensation for faculty and administrators. This article focuses on the survey results regarding the salaries of School Heads at our participating day schools.


According to this year’s survey results, School Heads in day schools earned, on average, $181,969 per year. Salary ranges varied region to region, by school enrollment, and by operating budget (see the three accompanying figures). Many Board Presidents and School Heads would rightly respond that national (and even regional) salaries have little relevance in their own school situations. When contemplating Head compensation, Board members and School Heads should account for the specific factors at their school that can affect salary.


Figure 1:  Average Salaries for School Heads
(by Region)

Figure 2:  Average Salaries for School Heads
(by Enrollment)

Figure 3:  Average Salaries for School Heads
(by Operating Budget)

Clear factors, beyond geographic differences, include school size (enrollment) and current operating budget. This does not mean, however, the School Head of a school in Louisiana with 500 students will necessarily receive a higher salary than the Head of a school in California with 350 students, since geographic factors may outweigh size factors. The comparison is most accurate when used in a local setting. Within similar geographies, a school’s enrollment and operating budget provide consistent gauges of salary level—generally, the larger the school and its budget, the higher the salary level.

Missed Communication

Every year, School Heads re-evaluate their position and whether they are content with their job. Many factors figure into this assessment, but salary and benefits are major considerations. A school’s Board President may feel there are no problems in this area—he/she and the Head have touched on the topic several times and no problems were indicated. Nonetheless, scheduling a formal review of the Head’s compensation is prudent.

A school trying to attract a new Head should also scrutinize the salary offered. A Board may base its decision on the departing Head’s compensation package without examining the current job market. Trustees should consider the regional figures reflected in our survey, and then investigate salaries in surrounding areas for a more accurate reading.

If a school recruits beyond its area, national and regional figures must be considered. If the school is unaware or uninformed about compensation packages offered by competitors, it cannot effectively compete dollar-wise for Head candidates. When a candidate asks for an explanation of the salary and benefits, the Board must be able to articulate its rationale.

Strategies for the Board

While salary is a major factor in a Head’s tenure at your school, it is not the only measure of job satisfaction. The solution for attracting and retaining a Head is not necessarily just to budget for and offer more money.

The School Head compensation unit of the Board (i.e., Board President, Finance Committee Chair, Head Support and Evaluation Committee Chair, or other appropriate combination of Trustees) can use the following strategies to assist in Head salary analysis. (Note: This is not to imply that the Head Support and Evaluation Committee [HSEC] is necessarily involved in a given Head’s salary determination, but that its Chair is an appropriate individual to be included in this wide-ranging salary review process.)

  • The Board’s compensation unit should be familiar with the varied aspects of the Head’s compensation. Ask School Heads at similar private-independent schools in your area about their salary negotiations (what they like and dislike about the process, not their specific compensation package figures). Statistics concerning salaries are often available from state and regional associations. This information will help determine appropriate compensation levels.

  • If you have not formed a Head Support and Evaluation Committee, do so. This Board committee is specifically responsible for meeting the needs of and evaluating the performance of the Head. While a Head may attribute his/her dissatisfaction to salary, the core problem may be that the Head does not feel supported, understood, or appreciated by the Board. Providing a formal venue for the Head to share job anxieties with Trustees can enhance the Board-Head relationship.

  • Carefully review the Head’s performance from year to year. ISM urges each school to determine the Head’s goals based on the school’s strategic plan. The Head’s goals are the foundation of the annual administration agenda, and the HSEC oversees Head’s performance in those areas.

  • Schedule an annual review of the Head’s compensation by the Board President and Finance Committee. Although the base amount may be governed by the Head’s contract, this review provides an opportunity for the Board to award an annual bonus, a cost-of-living adjustment, or a raise based on the goals met during the school year. Don’t force the Head to bear the initiative for every salary review—the Head shouldn’t feel as if he/she is begging for a raise.

  • Upon informing the Head of his/her new salary for the coming school year, be able to explain the rationale behind the amount. Don’t use vague terminology; be specific about the Head’s actions and behaviors, any movements in the economy, and other factors (including performance) that contributed to your decision.

  • Be aware that candidates can determine the salary of the departing Head from the school’s required 990 disclosure and from the private-independent school “network.” If the departing Head’s salary is far below that of comparable schools, the Board may have a rude awakening when trying to offer a similar salary to candidates.

Likewise, a Board trying to retain its current Head will face difficulties if there is a significant discrepancy between what the Head earns and what the current market dictates. The Board may have to find a way to allocate funds from the current budget to increase the Head’s compensation, and then revisit its strategic financial plan to allot money for an increase in subsequent years.

Working at a school where leadership expertise and knowledge are valued and rewarded is critical to the Head’s job satisfaction. With the HSEC’s assistance, the Board can create an excellent working relationship with its Head, while ensuring the Head is appropriately supported, appreciated, and compensated.

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