What Does a School Principal Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
A school principal must be a versatile leader. In any given day the principal can be a curriculum consultant, budget analyst, public relations representative, mediator, disciplinarian, and manager. If you like a varied workday, this could be the job for you.
The principal is held accountable for all aspects of a school. While the principal formally reports to the school superintendent or an assistant superintendent, the principal answers to many different people. The school staff expects leadership, parents expect a quality education and a safe environment for their children, and the community expects tax money to be spent wisely and student achievement on standardized tests to be up to par with the rest of the state’s schools.
School Principal Duties & Responsibilities
This job typically requires duties such as the following as part of the individual's daily responsibilities:
- Manage all faculty and staff at a school. The principal is held responsible for the school’s academic performance and for the safety of students while they’re on school grounds.
- Oversee and manage a school’s performance, which is primarily measured by how students perform on standardized tests. Principals in high performing schools are expected to keep their school’s test scores high. Principals in low performing schools are expected to foster improvement in the scores each year until the school becomes high performing.
- Decide how the school’s funds are spent. With general guidance from the district’s school board and more specific instruction from the superintendent and other district office staff, the principal decides how to most effectively spend the money allotted to the school.
- Oversee hiring decisions, with little interference from the district office. Human resources staff in the central office may assist in the administrative tasks of hiring, but the selections of assistant principals, teachers, counselors, librarians, and other staff are left to the principal’s professional judgment.
School principals must also have great communication skills and patience, as the job involves interacting with concerned parents. Often, parents want to take their concerns straight to the top, and the principal is the person they contact.
Principals learn quickly how to deal with irate parents who think their child has been shortchanged in some way. The principal separates facts from lies and exaggerations to get to the heart of an issue so that the issue can be addressed, then moves to the other issues that demand the principal’s attention.
School Principal Salary
High school principals tend to make more than middle school principals, who tend to make more than elementary school principals. A school principal salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.
- Median Annual Salary: $95,310 ($45.82 /hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $144,950 ($69.69/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $61,490 ($29.56/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Education, Training & Certification
The school principal position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:
- Education: Most principals hold a master’s degree in education administration or educational leadership. Bachelor’s degrees are often acceptable, but candidates with advanced degrees are preferable. Job postings may be written in such a way that candidates with only a bachelor’s degree are required to have more work experience than candidates with advanced degrees.
- Experience: Principal positions are jobs individuals assume mid-career. Principals often have experience as teachers and as assistant principals. Some states require principals to have teaching experience before they can become principals.
School Principal Skills & Competencies
While a school principal must meet certain educational and training qualifications, there are additional soft skills that can help individuals excel in this job, such as the following:
- Management skills: Strong management skills are essential to running an effective school. Teachers should trust that the operations of the school are well looked after, so they can focus on the students. Teachers should also feel like the principal is going to back them up when they refer students for disciplinary action. The support staff looks to the principal for leadership. Whether good or bad, the support staff will often follow the behaviors modeled by the principal.
- Communication skills: Principals need to communicate effectively and productively with students, teachers, and parents, and diffuse any arguments or tense situations.
- Critical-thinking skills: Principals analyze student test results and testing procedures to determine if improvements are needed. They must assess available options to help students achieve the best results.
- Decision-making skills: Principals must consider many factors when they make decisions because they have responsibility for students, staff, and the school's overall operation.
- Interpersonal skills: Principals work with a variety of people including teachers, parents, and superintendents, and they must be able to maintain positive working relationships.
- Leadership skills: Principals are tasked with setting educational goals and establishing policies and procedures for their school, and must motivate staff and other involved parties to achieve those goals.
- Problem-solving skills: Staff and students report problems to the principal, who must be able to analyze problems and find the best solutions.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth outlook for school principals from 2016 to 2026 is 8%, which is driven by growth in the number of students but dependent on the condition of state and local budgets. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.
The majority of school principals work in public elementary, middle, and high schools. Working with the students can be rewarding, although interactions with parents, faculty, and community members can add stress to the job.
School principals typically work a full-time schedule. They often have work to do in the summer, even when the teachers and students have time off. Principals may also work on evenings and weekends to attend school functions, such as athletic events or concerts, and to meet with parents.
How to Get the Job
Brush up your resume to highlight relevant skills and previous experience. Speak to colleagues to gather information about the hiring process and any politics involved. Principals are selected by the superintendent, assistant superintendent, or a hiring panel. The hiring panel members depend on the particular job and the political forces in play at the time.
The more politically charged the environment, the more unconventional the hiring panel membership will be. If there is a school board member particularly interested in the school, that board member may work their way onto the panel. Otherwise, the hiring process is similar to that of other senior management positions in other fields.
You can network your way to a new job by attending events organized by various education organizations. Check the National Education Association for information on events and other networking opportunities.
Look at job-search resources such as Government Jobs, Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the websites of individual schools to apply to open job positions.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in a school principal career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:
- High School Teachers: $60,320
- Instructional Coordinators: $64,450
- School and Career Counselors: $56,310
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018