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Principal Job Description and Salary

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.

Job Outlook and Salary Range for Principals

As of May 2010, the median annual salary for elementary, middle and high school principals was $86,970, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10% earned more than $129,480 and the bottom 10% earned less than $58,300.

With summers spent evaluating the previous academic year and preparing for the upcoming one, most principals work year-round. Concerts, plays, sporting events and other school functions mean principals often work evenings and weekends during the regular school year.

Nationally, the BLS projects 10% job growth for principals between 2010 and 2020. Anticipated increases in school enrollment are likely to drive employment growth for principals: student numbers are expected to grow rapidly in the South and West.

As with any occupation, regional market conditions affect employment opportunities and salary potential for principals, as do a candidate’s experience and education.

Education and Training for Principals

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.”