Most conversations in my office start with, "This is probably a silly question.” My response (I have a few in my usual repertoire) is something along the lines of “I love silly questions!”
It is the work of an HR professional, be they in schools or any other professional setting, to be well-prepared for just about anything. We read a lot, doing our best to keep up to date on the latest trends in workforces, hiring markets, payroll and benefits matters, and the dizzying array of employment law updates on the national and local jurisdictional levels. It’s my job to pay attention to the things my faculty colleagues simply cannot. And for good reason! It would be a terrible use of their time, energy, and bandwidth to delve into the nuances of qualified benefits plans or the latest update to the IRS’s annual list of approved Health Reimbursement Arrangement expenses.
One of the greatest skills that I bring to Field’s professional community is my ability to synthesize and shine a light on what matters most and to be the place to go with those idiosyncratic one-off questions that have deep importance to just one colleague on any given school day. After more than 15 years doing this work primarily in schools, I have learned that there is nothing “silly” at the heart of any question that a fellow faculty member is taking the time to pose. It is imperative to them and needs addressing thoroughly, if for no other reason than getting it off their to-do list. HR folks are trained to provide thorough information, not advice. In schools and the people development business, having frank, trusting conversations is paramount.
Some of my favorite sources of information are the trade publications of professional associations like NBOA (National Business Officers Association) and SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management). In this Fall’s issue of SHRM’s HR Magazine, Theresa Agovino describes “The Great Compromise” taking place between management and employees in industries across the country: Whether to return to pre-pandemic levels of in-person office work. For those of us in education, this debate feels like it is taking place in an alternate universe, as we have recently entered our third school year of in-person learning since COVID-19 arrived in schools that fateful March.
While there was little debate on the pedagogical decision to return to school, then or now, the pandemic did have a seismic impact on the workforce of educators. According to data from the Department of Labor Statistics, more than 300,000 public school teachers and staff left their jobs in education between February 2020 and May 2022. During the winter of 2022, the National Education Association surveyed its membership and found that 55% of teachers were strongly considering leaving their profession earlier than they had previously planned. For educators of color, the response was significantly higher.
Last summer, Field experienced a very low rate of faculty turnover with just four teaching faculty departures. Two new colleagues joined our school community this summer because their roles were newly created due to program growth and expansion, one in the advanced sciences and the other in our Advancement department. We are extremely proud of the longevity of Field’s faculty and the experience level of the teachers we have hired. This fall, our four new members of the teaching faculty arrived at Field with a combined 59 years of prior teaching experience. Faculty-wide, our teachers boast an average of more than 13 years in teaching, and 71% hold an advanced degree.
While DC’s uniquely “transient” workforce (the phenomenon of most DMV professionals arriving from elsewhere for a career opportunity, staying a few years, then departing the region to pursue work in another city) poses challenges to keeping all of our teachers here long-term, competitive salaries and benefits play an important role in putting Field’s best foot forward when attracting and keeping the best faculty. The laser focus of Lori and the Board of Trustees on keeping our total compensation packages to faculty both appealing and competitive has made this possible. Field participates in the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) DASL Survey annually, an extremely granular data-sharing exercise that gives member schools access to insightful salary data (among other data points) for faculty with various levels of experience and degrees. Field’s salaries are benchmarked at the top 75th percentile among schools of a similar size, and that target has been our north star as we regularly reevaluate current salaries and recruit new colleagues into the community.
On the benefits side of faculty compensation, in recent years, Field has introduced a choice of medical plans, each with an HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement) account funded by the school, which covers the lion’s share of the annual deductible and other qualified medical, dental, vision, and prescription expenses. This flexible resource puts our faculty at the center of their own healthcare spending and empowers them to make the best spending decisions for themselves and their families. This year, we also introduced a new Long Term Care + Life Insurance option, providing faculty and their families with levels of coverage and monthly premiums at a variable rate of their choosing. Based on the information that we have, we are the first (and quite possibly the only) independent school of our size, in the DMV, to do so. Parental leave has also been expanded to 12 weeks fully paid, with up to 16 weeks total available for leave for growing families, another generous benefit that we are extremely proud to offer our faculty.
Additionally, Field puts substantial resources behind Professional Development for teaching and non-teaching faculty, alike. During the 2022-23 school year, we invested $123,871 in faculty professional development. Opportunities included workshops, conference attendance, and academic coursework, which are all vital parts of faculty members’ professional experiences. For faculty members who wish to pursue an advanced degree, Field also offers financial support toward this pursuit of education. Generous philanthropic support of the community through annual giving via The Field Fund makes these meaningful benefits possible for our professional community.
The data and our lived experiences show the terrible toll the pandemic took on educators. It was an extremely difficult period to do the already challenging work of offering the highest quality in progressive education. Yet, communities like Field, which recognize the challenges with open eyes, lean into them to partner with our faculty, problem solve, and offer agency and support when the going does get tough, will be best positioned to continue to thrive.
Here at Field, the entire professional community, teaching and non-teaching roles alike, are referred to and described as faculty, as each contributes to our students’ experiences and is valued. I am immensely proud to play a role in supporting the work of Field’s greatest asset, our people.