Mission-Anchored Compensation Strategies: A Sampling

Following extensive research, NBOA has developed a suite of resources to help leaders at independent schools of every size, type and context recruit and retain mission-aligned professionals.

Jan 4, 2024  |  By Elizabeth Dabney, NBOA, and Amber Stockham, SPHR, MBA, NBOA

From the January-February 2024 Net Assets Magazine.

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The following is original text outlining a key part of the Mission-Anchored Compensation Strategies Implementation Guide, the interactive decision tree. The Implementation Guide broadly provides inspiration, tools and guidance for independent school leaders to recruit and retain mission-aligned faculty and staff. Download the guide at nboa.org/compensation.

Implementation Guide

The Implementation Guide’s decision tree was developed to help school leaders consider potential compensation elements based upon their school’s values or staffing challenges. While not all options available within the decision tree will be feasible for all schools, the tree is intended to provide creative solutions to challenges that other schools have already successfully addressed.

Modifications Based on School Values

One way to make the most of a school’s investment in faculty and staff compensation is to reflect the school’s values in the employee compensation system. The Mission-Aligned Compensation Strategies Implementation Guide’s first decision tree offers solutions related to the most common values discussed by schools in research-related interviews, including growth, wellbeing, community, leadership and equity.

Recommendations within the decision tree to honor community values of excellence and professional growth include the development of formal career paths at the school and allowing for rapid development within those career paths. A school wishing to reflect these values may opt to formalize the career trajectories of their faculty members.

This is what The Hun School of Princeton did when they developed four distinct levels of advancement for teachers, beginning as Teacher 1 and culminating in the designation of Master Teacher, if a teacher chooses to pursue advancement. While these levels have minimum tenure requirements, they are based upon career progression and mastery of skills, which include curriculum development and leadership within the school. This system is one way that Hun School is demonstrating some of its highest values, which include faculty interaction with students and faculty modeling of the school’s educational mission, explained Stephanie Connell, chief financial and operations officer at The Hun School.

A leader at Avenues: The World School described the school’s IMPACT Evaluation Model for faculty as having similar goals. However, the nature of the school, with campuses in New York, São Paulo, Shenzhen and Silicon Valley, commanded a more global approach to the teaching role. When defining teacher attainment levels, the model focuses on teacher impact, beginning in the classroom and expanding to the world. “We know that there’s room for everybody to grow, and we align our compensation to that,” explained Diego Marino, the school’s global director of recruitment.

These contrasting options exemplify distinct ways to provide support for the professional growth of faculty, each of which is appropriate to the school’s particular context.

Modifications Based on School Challenges

The second decision tree provides suggestions based on the particular staffing challenges that a school is facing. For instance, a school that faces recruiting challenges in a competitive market may wish to offer more benefits that offset employees’ costs, such as transportation stipends or reduced costs on renter’s insurance. Another option for schools in a competitive market might be aligning benefits programs to the unique features of their regions and offering options that might not be available to schools outside of the region, like ski passes or access to exclusive venues.

Schools in the study that found success in competitive markets frequently practiced pay transparency. For example, when California mandated pay transparency for employers with 15 or more employees, La Jolla Country Day School opted to develop a salary increase calculator. With a goal of developing a fair, consistent and transparent system, the algorithm used by the school weighs the employee’s position, median regional wages and supervisors’ ratings when determining salary adjustments. During design and implementation of the system, school leaders felt strongly that performance should be acknowledged and sought to balance the evenhandedness requested by faculty with performance-based recognition. The resulting compensation system reflects these considerations and provides transparency both in a nod to their core value of belief in the dignity of all people and in compliance with legal obligations.

Performance-based compensation systems can be unpredictable, however, which can pose budgetary challenges not encountered in systems offering across-the-board cost of living adjustments. In order to fund a performance-based program for faculty, The Blake School established an endowment that generates an annual draw, which is dispersed in the form of cash bonuses and professional development funding. This program has been adjusted over time as the school has discovered the professional development funds to be more effective in supporting faculty than the cash bonuses. When faculty have agency over how to use the funds, they are empowered to drive their own professional development. “We’ve heard from faculty that that’s something that they really value,” said The Blake School’s chief financial officer and operating officer, Dan Kelley. Such adjustments to any compensation system element are to be expected as a school works to adapt to changing circumstances and new challenges.

Implementation Considerations

One of the most significant findings of the research was that the process through which a school designs and implements a new compensation system is as important as the system itself. Transparency and inclusivity in the process, when combined with clear communication during implementation, can help to build buy-in and shared ownership of the new system.

When school leaders at Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, were contemplating changes, they developed a survey for employees to identify both the strengths and pain points of their current system. The Blake School went a step further and used a standing committee that is representative of the teaching faculty to develop their new faculty advancement system. Both found that providing an opportunity for the community to engage with the process and integrating feedback into the new system helped ensure success.


Elizabeth Dabney

Senior Director, Research and Data Analysis


Seattle, WA

As NBOA’s director, research and data analysis, Elizabeth Dabney leads the development, planning and management of industry research using data from the association’s Business Intelligence for Independent Schools (BIIS, pronounced “biz”) platform, in addition to other research activities as identified by the association’s strategic plan. Dabney’s research and analysis supports NBOA’s mission to inform NBOA members and other external stakeholders and encourage data-driven decision making throughout the independent school community. Dabney brings to NBOA more than 20 years of research experience. Previously, she was the director, research and policy analysis at the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit education policy and advocacy organization, and the nation’s leading voice on education data policy and use.

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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. 

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