A principal has a career in education as the chief administrator of an elementary, middle, or secondary school. Principals set the academic tone and work actively with teachers to develop and maintain high curriculum standards, formulate mission statements, and establish performance goals and objectives.
Principals confer with staff to advise, explain, or answer procedural questions. They hire and evaluate teachers and other staff. They visit classrooms, observe teaching methods, review instructional objectives, and examine learning materials. Principals must use clear, objective guidelines for teacher appraisals, because a principal’s pay often is based on performance ratings.
Principals also meet with other administrators and students, parents, and representatives of community organizations. Decision-making authority increasingly has shifted from school district central offices to individual schools. School principals have greater flexibility in setting school policies and goals, but when making administrative decisions, they must pay attention to the concerns of parents, teachers, and other stakeholders of the school.
Principals are responsible for preparing budgets and reports on various subjects, such as finances, attendance, and student performance. As school budgets become tighter, many principals have become more involved in public relations and fundraising to secure financial support for their schools from local businesses and the community.
Principals ensure that students meet national, state, and local academic standards. Many principals develop partnerships with local businesses and school-to-work transition programs for students. Principals must be sensitive to the needs of a rising number of non-English-speaking students and a culturally diverse student body.
In some areas, growing enrollments are a cause for concern, because they lead to overcrowding at many schools. When addressing problems of inadequate resources, administrators serve as advocates for the building of new schools or the repair of existing ones.
During the summer months, principals are responsible for planning for the upcoming year, overseeing summer school, participating in workshops for teachers and administrators, supervising building repairs and improvements, and working to ensure that the school has adequate staff for the upcoming school year.
Requirements for becoming a school principal include a bachelor’s degree, a teaching license, teaching experience, and an advanced degree (either a master’s or a doctorate in education administration), as well as a school administrator’s license. Today’s principals need to be able to multitask or shift rapidly from one task, or even crisis, to another. They need to be prepared to provide the sort of institutional leadership that improves student achievement, and they need to identify and adapt to change.
Principals need political, managerial, instructional, and educational skills, as well as rigorous research and standards-based knowledge. They need to identify strategies for continued growth and to work with their states to develop coherent statewide systems to develop and support school leaders. Vision and energy are needed to run today’s schools.
The average salary for an elementary or secondary school principal is over $80,000, almost twice that of teachers.