Elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee all school operations, including daily school activities. They coordinate curriculums, manage staff, and provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.

Duties

Elementary, middle, and high school principals typically do the following:

  • Manage school activities and staff, including teachers and support personnel
  • Establish and oversee class schedules
  • Develop, implement, and maintain curriculum standards
  • Counsel and discipline students
  • Observe teachers and evaluate their performance
  • Meet with parents and teachers to discuss students’ progress and behavior
  • Assess and prepare reports on test scores and other student achievement data
  • Organize professional development programs and workshops for staff
  • Manage the school’s budget, order school supplies, and schedule maintenance
  • Establish and coordinate security procedures for students, staff, and visitors

Elementary, middle, and high school principals direct the overall operation of schools. They set and oversee academic goals and ensure that teachers have the equipment and resources to meet those goals. Principals may establish and supervise additional programs in their school, such as counseling, extracurricular activities, and before- and after-school childcare.

In public schools, principals also implement standards and programs set by the school district, state, and federal regulations. They evaluate and prepare reports based on these standards by assessing student achievement and teacher performance at their school.

Principals serve as the public representative of their school. They listen to, and try to address, the concerns of parents and the community.

The duties of principals vary by the size of the school and district. In large schools and districts, principals may have additional resources and staff to help them achieve goals. For example, large school districts often have instructional coordinators who help with data analysis and with teachers’ professional development. Principals also may have staff who help with hiring school personnel. In smaller school districts, principals may need to assume these and other duties themselves.

Many schools have assistant principals who help principals with school administration. Principals typically assign specific duties to their assistant principals. In some school districts, assistant principals handle a subject area, such as literacy or math. Assistants may handle student safety, provide student academic counseling, or enforce disciplinary or attendance rules. They may also coordinate buses or supervise building and grounds maintenance.

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Work Environment

Elementary, middle, and high school principals held about 275,400 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of elementary, middle, and high school principals were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 77%
Elementary and secondary schools; private                     17

Elementary, middle, and high school principals may find it rewarding to work with students. However, coordinating and interacting with faculty, parents, students, and community members may be demanding. Principals’ work is sometimes stressful because they are accountable for their school meeting state and federal standards for student performance and teacher qualification.

Work Schedules

Principals typically work full time. They may work evenings or weekends to meet with parents and other members of the community and to attend school functions, such as concerts and athletic events.

Typically, principals work year round and do not have summers off, even if students are not in school. During the summer, principals schedule building maintenance, order school supplies, and hire new teachers and other staff in preparation for the upcoming school year. 

Education and Training

Most schools require elementary, middle, and high school principals to have a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. Principals also need teaching experience.

Education

Principals typically need a master’s degree in education leadership or education administration. These master’s degree programs teach prospective principals how to manage staff, create budgets, set goals, and work with parents and the community. To enter the master’s degree programs, candidates typically need a bachelor’s degree in education, school counseling, or a related field.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Principals need several years of teaching experience. For more information on how to become a teacher, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators. Licensure requirements vary by state, but most require a master’s degree. Some states have alternative programs for candidates who do not have a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. Most states also require candidates to pass an exam and a background check.

Principals in private schools are not required to have a state-issued license.

Advancement

An assistant principal can advance to become a principal. Some principals advance to become superintendents or education administrators, which may require additional education. Others become instructional coordinators.

Personality and Interests

Elementary, middle, and high school principals typically have an interest in the Helping, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an elementary, middle, and high school principal, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Elementary, middle, and high school principals should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Principals must communicate effectively with students, teachers, and parents. For example, when dealing with student disciplinary or academic issues, they consult with and listen to parents and teachers to understand the problem.

Critical-thinking skills. Principals analyze student test results and testing procedures to determine any improvements to help students achieve better results.

Decision-making skills. Because principals are responsible for students, staff members, and the overall operation of the school, they consider many factors when making decisions. For example, they consider the safety of students and staff when making a recommendation to close a school before a snowstorm.

Interpersonal skills. Because principals work with teachers, parents, and superintendants, they must be able to develop positive working relationships with them.

Leadership skills. Principals set educational goals and establish policies and procedures for the school. They need to be able to motivate teachers and other staff to achieve set goals.

Problem-solving skills. Teachers, students, and other staff members report problems to the principal. Principals need to be able to analyze problems, and develop and implement solutions.

Pay

The median annual wage for elementary, middle, and high school principals was $96,400 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,070, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $148,630.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for elementary, middle, and high school principals in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local $97,850
Elementary and secondary schools; private                         85,930

Principals typically work full time. They may work evenings or weekends to meet with parents and other members of the community and to attend school functions, such as concerts and athletic events.

Typically, principals work year round and do not have summers off, even if students are not in school. During the summer, principals prepare for the upcoming school year, schedule building maintenance, order school supplies, and hire teachers and other staff.

Job Outlook

Employment of elementary, middle, and high school principals is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be affected by student enrollment and the number of educational institutions.

There are a limited number of principal positions available per school. If student enrollment increases, more schools will open, which could increase demand. Conversely, stagnant or decreasing student enrollment may reduce the demand for principals.

Employment growth of school principals will also depend on state and local budgets. Budget constraints may delay the building or opening of new schools. In addition, some school districts may consolidate and close some schools within their districts, thereby limiting employment growth. However, if there is a budget surplus, school districts may open more schools which could lead to an employment growth.

Job Prospects

There may be good opportunities for teachers to advance into principal jobs as large numbers of baby boomers retire.

For More Information

For more information on elementary, middle, and high school principals, visit

National Association of Elementary School Principals

National Association of Secondary School Principals

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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