Excellent schools don’t just happen; they require the right kind of leadership, both at the classroom level and in the front office. The most effective school principals have what it takes to lead their academic institutions and ensure increased student achievement.
Although specific duties vary by level, principals at any school are expected to effectively run day-to-day operations as well as set the goals and objectives needed for success. They establish academic standards, overseeing their implementation and making sure teachers are equipped with the necessary resources to meet those benchmarks.
Other duties typically include: managing the school’s finances and budget; making sure facilities are safe and secure; meeting with teachers and parents as part of measuring progress and gauging behavior; supporting teachers in their disciplinary decisions; and supervising and monitoring all categories of school staff, including teachers, counselors and media specialists. Often, larger schools have assistant or vice principals to aid with school administration.
As of May 2012, the median annual salary for a principal in elementary, middle and high school was $87,760, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) most recent principal salary study. The top 10% of principals earned more than $130,810 yearly salary and the bottom 10% of principals earned a yearly salary of less than $58,530.
Nationally, the BLS projects 6% job growth for principals between 2012 and 2022. The number of students is projected to increase over this period, and additional schools may open to serve them, creating a need for principals and other administrative staff. However, employment growth also depends on state and local budgets, which can delay school construction and staff hiring. As with any occupation, regional market conditions affect employment opportunities and salary potential for principals, as do a candidate’s experience and education.
A bachelor’s degree in education, school counseling or a related field is typically the first step to becoming a principal. In most cases, a master’s degree in educational leadership or educational administration is required for employment as a principal. The graduate degree programs are designed to provide the necessary training for prospective principals to lead faculty and staff, work with budgets, communicate effectively with parents and the community, and set and accomplish goals for the school.
Generally, principals have gained experience as a teacher and perhaps as an assistant principal before taking over the reins of a school. In addition, the majority of states mandate that public school principals have a school administrator license, and testing or continuing education may be required as part of renewing a license.
Because of the diverse nature of their duties and responsibilities, principals must have solid communication and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to analyze testing data and other statistics. With a growing emphasis on digital technology, principals will also likely be key players in the transition away from traditional textbooks and other instructional materials in the coming years.
A 2011 analysis of principal evaluation practices nationwide highlighted the importance of effective leadership. The analysis, which was conducted in collaboration with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, noted that: “High-quality school leadership is essential to achieving our national goals of making dramatic changes in the lowest performing schools and improving the educational opportunities for all students.”