By Jeff Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN

The pandemic has magnified the importance of school. Of school being in-person. Of all the roles in our schools. Perhaps near the top of the list is the director of communication position.

With this edition of HeadLines exploring communication and marketing in our schools, I will present some data on the evolution of the director of communication position.

Figure 1 represents the percentage of NAIS and SAIS schools that have a position called “director of communications.” In the 12 years from 2008-2009 to 2020-2021, the percentage of NAIS schools that have an employee in this position has increased from 53% to 66%. A 25% increase. For SAIS schools, the increase has been from 57% to 68%, a 20% increase. It appears this is a growth position for independent schools.

Figure 1 - Click for larger view

Another reasonable question to ask is whether those who are filling the position are bringing more experience to the role. Figure 2 shows that the general, albeit modest, trend over the past 20 years in NAIS and SAIS is for the director of communication to have more experience in the role at their school. It was more typical for the person in the position to have five to seven years of experience from 2000 to 2010, and for the next decade eight to ten years of experience has been more typical.

Compensation can be used to assess the organizational value of a position. Figure 3 shows the median salary trend for the director of communication over the past 20 years in our schools. Unequivocally, there has been a steep increase in median salary. For NAIS schools, the median salary has increased 120%, from $41,000 to $90,000. The story is similar for SAIS schools with median salaries increasing 121%, from $36,000 to $80,000. To contextualize, I compared the increase for the director of communication over the past 20 years versus an above inflation 4% per year increase. The 4% per year increase mirrors the increase for the data presented. With many positions in our workforce not at a 4% per year trend, the increase in salary for the director of communication position seems to be relatively robust and perhaps a sign of its increasing importance.

One may have thought that this seemingly steep increase in salary would be relatively more pronounced than for all NAIS and SAIS administrators combined. Figure 4 shows that for the same timeframe, the median salaries for all administrators increased by a healthy 150% in NAIS and 180% in SAIS. I found this a little surprising. However, from previous FastStats, I know that increases for certain positions, like the head of school, may be having a disproportionate impact on this comparison.

As we dive a little deeper, we can look at other data that may be proxies of the relative increase in importance of this position. Figure 5 shows the trend for the percentage of directors of communication who are full-time. There’s a modest but clear trend. The percentage of full-time directors of communication has increased from about 86% to 96% in NAIS over the past 20 years. For SAIS, the increase has been from 92% to 98%.

Similarly, we can look at whether the director of communication has other responsibilities unrelated to the essential functions of the job. Figure 6 shows whether this position comes with teaching responsibilities. About 5% of the individuals in this position had some teaching responsibilities 20 years ago. That has almost disappeared since. In fact, it seems to have disappeared in SAIS schools. The interpretation is that the person in this position does not have the time to allocate to important but unrelated responsibilities, like teaching.

While not necessarily related to the importance of the role over time in our school, we can also take a look at the gender balance. In Figure 7, although you can see a lot of variation year-to-year within SAIS data, the percentage of males and females in the role has not changed much in 20 years. NAIS is around 85% female and SAIS around 88% female.

Finally, we can also determine whether people of color occupy this position more so than 20 years ago. Figure 8 demonstrates a solid upward trend for NAIS schools from 6% to 13%. And, SAIS schools have moved from essentially 0% to 12%.

Although not powerfully so, the data seem to indicate that:

  • The position of director of communication has become disproportionately more important in our schools.
  • The number of schools that have this position has increased.
  • The salary has increased beyond inflation (1).
  • More directors of communication are full-time and fewer have other responsibilities like teaching. All this points to more duties and more responsibilities.
  • The gender balance has not changed and I cannot think of a compelling reason to think it would.
  • There is a healthy trend toward more people of color in the position.

Overall, I am perhaps surprised that the data did not tell a more powerful story of the growth and importance of this position. Considering the massive evolution of the gig economy, communication, especially the logarithmic increase in the importance of digital and social media and the mind-boggling array of information sources our schools now have to manage, it would seem to make sense that schools would be investing more in these positions either through additional hires in the communications office or increased compensation to meet the accelerated skills required for these positions.

Not represented in this data is the near certainty that schools are utilizing a lot more of their resources in the communication sector. Although hard to find in DASL, I believe many more of us are allocating resources in the form of internal and outsourced positions specializing in digital marketing, search engine optimization, and website curation/management while maintaining traditional communication responsibilities such as branding and good old print media.

In this ever more accessible and sensitive world, the importance of communication in our schools will not stop growing.


1 Unlike faculty salaries in NAIS and SAIS schools.