25 Silver Rules for New Independent School HR Professionals

As the role of HR managers in independent schools becomes increasingly vital, industry experts share 25 valuable tips to help newcomers excel and drive positive change.

Jun 15, 2023  |  By Amber Stockham, NBOA

From the March/April 2023 Net Assets Magazine.

NBOA HR professionals

Human resources, as I see it, is a service to make employees’ lives better and easier, which enables them to perform their jobs better. Serve and care for your employees well.

Amelia Reed

—Linda Peterson, Houston Christian High School

Become very familiar with your school’s unique culture because this culture will change how you look at everything, from your HR decisions to how you care for your school, the faculty and staff.

—Amelia Reed, Presbyterian School

Make time for connection. Take off your HR hat. Sit at the lunch table and go to school parties. Be a real person.

—Tricia Licari, Friends Academy

Become comfortable saying, “I don’t know. I’ll find out and get back to you.” Coming back a short while later with the answer reinforces the idea that people can come to you when they need something, it builds trust and it’s likely that you learned something and are now better equipped to answer that question in the future.

—Kaytria Stauffer, A Step Up Academy

Strive for transparency whenever and wherever you can. Your employees will appreciate it, your school will benefit from it and it’s a great way to hold yourself accountable to the standards you expect everyone to follow.

Cassie M

—Dan Chen, Convent of the Sacred Heart

I spent a great deal of my first year listening, asking questions, and learning from my new colleagues, which allowed me to learn the school’s culture and gain credibility with the faculty.

—Cassie Mendrop, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Connect with other HR professionals who work at independent schools through organizations like NBOA. It’s even better if you can connect with a few who are local to your city or state.

—Binh Vong, University Prep

Take some time for thought and reflection before responding to HR challenges, especially employee relations. Try to suspend judgmentalism and be willing to look at it from all sides.

—Dale Painter, Community School of Naples

Remember, each of us builds on the successes of our predecessors. Take a breath! Then you can start the invigorating journey to take HR to the next level at your school.

—Diane Bellino, Lawrence Academy

Connecting with people in the school community who represent all voices is so important. Your faculty and staff have so many reasons for being a part of your community. Spend time talking with long-tenured faculty (they have some of the best stories!), and spend time hearing from your new employees.

Kristina Foucher

—Janet Graham, McDonogh School

Please realize you are not alone. NBOA provides the most incredible resources by surrounding you with amazing human resources colleagues from all across the country who are always willing to help, share their knowledge and provide support and guidance. Just reach out!

—Celeste Dirk, The Hun School of Princeton

Leverage your resources: your insurance brokers, insurance providers, fiduciary services, etc. As much as you can, delegate the items that they can do on your behalf.

Morgan P

—Kristina Foucher, San Diego Jewish Academy

Don’t be afraid to try something new, get involved and get out from behind your desk.

—Morgan Pearson, Landon School

Keep in mind that through our decisions and policymaking, we send a message to the entire community about our values and mission and what the school stands for while setting a precedent for ourselves to follow when similar circumstances arise in the future.

—Whitney Walters-Sachs, Pine Crest School

Create relationships with the leadership team and be sure that the team understands your role and how you can assist them in accomplishing their goals.

Whitney Walters-Sachs

—Sandra Fantozzi-Welker, University School

Don’t spin your wheels trying to solve the world’s problems and don’t think you need to recreate the wheel; 99% of the time, someone else has already had the same problem and hopefully come up with suggestions to solve it. Take advantage of all of the HR and leadership programs offered by NBOA and use the community boards for questions and advice. Attend the Annual Meeting and network with your peers.

—Wendi Cantwell, New Hampton School

The unpredictability and intensity of the issues you will have to deal with will be both intimidating and gratifying. Don’t judge yourself too harshly for what you have not been able to accomplish and take pride in your achievements!

—Carolyn Miller, Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences

If something at my school is not ideal from an HR perspective, it has helped me to remember the reason may be a lack of awareness. This minimizes frustration and inspires me to help.

—Heather Sebuufu, The Fessenden School

Ask a lot of questions and assume nothing. HR and payroll for an independent school is more complicated than for many businesses because of the variety of types of employees and pay formats. A 403(b) is different from a 401(k). Invest time in becoming familiar with the data.

—June O’Dell Porco, Holton-Arms School

Early on, I enrolled in the Essentials of the Business Office training as I was part of the business office. I then gained the understanding on how the business office functioned. I learned just to continually ask questions as everything was an acronym and others assume you know what they mean.

—Sandra Fantozzi-Welker, University School

HR in education is different from HR in many other industries. NBOA’s HR Community page in NBOA Connect, including the search feature, are of immeasurable value. While I use resources like SHRM local and national, I find that having a resource like NBOA is so helpful because the people within the community understand the specific situations that arise in the independent school setting. Be sure to bookmark the page and visit often or sign up for daily email digests.

—Dawn Ijiri, La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls

When making decisions, always endeavor to reflect compassion, understanding and support for the individuals directly involved, maintaining a conscious recognition of the impact our choices will have on each person. Not every situation will be resolved with everyone in agreement. What is essential is that the individuals involved understand the process, experience it as fair and, ideally, grow from the interaction.

Tricia Licari

—Whitney Walters-Sachs, Pine Crest School

Speak up. Share your HR lens and your expertise as only you can. Leadership and colleagues will view you as the go-to person.

—Tricia Licari, Friends Academy

So much of the work that we do is related to sensitive issues like compensation, benefits, evaluations and performance improvement. Your faculty and staff need to know that they are being treated equitably within these processes. If you are not engaging with them and providing explanation and transparency, it can be difficult to truly have the trust and support from employees.

—Janet Graham, McDonogh School

There is always something new to learn, whether it's a regulatory change or a technique for reaching employees in crisis. Schools are filled with life-long learners, and you should ensure you're one of them!

—Amber Stockham, NBOA

Our school HR professionals are a wealth of wisdom, so we’ll leave you with this last bit of advice, provided respectively by Kristina Foucher and Wendi Cantwell: “Set clear boundaries and don’t feel guilty about it!” “Take time for self-care. Do not feel guilty about taking the time to recharge, and give yourself grace.”



Amber Stockham

Amber Stockham, SPHR

Senior Director, Human Resources Programs


Pittsfield, MA

With 20 years of human resources-related experience, Amber Stockham, SPHR, brings expertise in regulatory compliance, talent acquisition and management, organizational planning, and compensation and benefits design to her role as director, human resources programs at NBOA. Prior to joining NBOA in 2020, her career spanned a variety of industries, including social services, manufacturing and construction. She found a passion for education when she served as the director of human resources at Miss Hall’s School, an independent day/boarding school for girls in grades 9-12 in Massachusetts. In her current role, Stockham develops and delivers highly practical and engaging programs, products and services on topics ranging from difficult conversations and employee supervision to benefits administration. Stockham holds a master of business administration from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

Full Bio »


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