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Edwin P. Fredie, who last week was named the new headmaster of Milton Academy in Milton, Mass., seems unimpressed about news accounts that have described him as the first black headmaster of a "major" American boarding school.

Mr. Fredie, who will replace the outgoing headmaster Jerome A. Pieh, said in an interview, "I'm sure Milton Academy did not select me because I am an African American. That's not an important factor. What is important is that Milton was looking for excellence in education."

What may be more remarkable for the usually close-knit world of independent schools is that Mr. Fredie will join Milton Academy on July 1 following a long career in public education. He has been principal of Needham High School in Needham, Mass., since 1984, where he won praise for instituting a core curriculum and for raising student academic performance.

Milton Academy, founded in 1798, includes among its graduates the poet T.S. Eliot, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and his late brother, Robert.

According to the National Association of Independent Schools, several other prominent independent schools have African-American headmasters. They include the Piney Woods Country Life School, a boarding and day school in Piney Woods, Miss.; the Chestnut Hill School in Chestnut Hill, Mass.; the Friends School in Haverford, Pa.; and the Wilmington Friends School, in Wilmington, Del.

The median annual salary for heads of independent schools rose 7.7 percent this year to $70,000, according to a study conducted by the nais

The association's annual statistical report on tuitions and salaries, based on a survey of 870 nais-member schools, found that the top 10 percent of salaries ranged from between $102,000 to $162,000 a year. The middle 50 percent of salaries ranged from $56,000 to $84,500.

The survey shows that while some opportunities are opening for women and minorities, the typical headmaster is a white male. Seventy-eight percent of heads are male, and only 1 percent are "people of color."

The median teacher salary in nais schools rose this year by 5.8 percent to $25,825, up from $25,207 last year.

By comparison, the average salary of public-school teachers in 1989-90 was $31,300, according to the report.

Teachers at independent schools in the West were paid the highest--a median of $28,869, compared with $27,879 and below $25,500 in all other regions. Median tuitions increased by 7.4 percent this year to $6,429 for day students and $14,601 for boarding students.--mw

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