The Number of Heads of Color at Independent Schools is on the Rise

A teacher at Trinity Episcopal School in New Orleans instructs her class. (Photo courtesy Trinity Episcopal School)

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) reports 8.1 percent of heads of school were people of color in the 2018-2019 academic year, up from 4.7 percent in 2008-2009.

Anthony G. Featherston IV, lead facilitator of the NAIS Institute for New Heads, says he saw an increase this past year in particular at the annual “boot camp” for new heads.

“We’ve typically seen a handful and a half of folks of color in the cohorts over the last five years,” Featherston says, “but this year was a pretty marked contrast for that.”

The institute welcomed 20 heads of color out of 95 total participants; 45 of the new head attendees were women, says Featherston, who now works full-time for independent school leadership recruitment firm Resource Group 175.

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In 2018-2019, 33.1 percent of heads of school were women. This compares to 32.8 percent in 2008-09.

“It changes the conversations, not just the representation,” he adds. “People felt safer asking questions on what they were thinking coming in that they were maybe not willing to ask about before.”

Schools now see the benefits of having a person of color and women in the head role.

“When I’m the head of school or a woman is the head of school, it changes that paradigm for people on what leadership can look like,” Featherston says. “I grew up never thinking there would ever be anybody like me as president, but Obama does kind of look like me. You just don’t think that’s possible growing up. Now kids do think that’s possible. It’s not a guarantee of success, but it changes that bias that many of us have based on what we’ve seen through our lives.”

Kelsey Landis is editor-in-chief of DiversityIS.