School Principal

Job Duties

Principals manage elementary, middle, and secondary schools. They hire teachers and staff, and then evaluate and improve the skills of those employees. They work together with teachers to develop and maintain curriculum standards, write mission statements, and set goals for school. They advise teachers at their school regarding procedures and legalities. They review learning materials, visit classrooms, observe teachers and their methods, and develop instructional objectives. Principals are also the school’s representative to the community. They work with parents, teachers, and other community members in creating school policy.

Principals prepare budgets and other financial materials. They also work to make sure their students meet national, State, and local academic standards. They develop relationships and partnerships with local businesses that can help students transition from school to work. Principals also have responsibilities that do not relate directly to academics. They are increasingly involved with before- and after-school programs or family resource centers, which offer assistance to dual-income and single-parent families.

Job Skills

Qualities important for principals to possess include leadership, determination, confidence, innovativeness, and motivation. It is important for them to have specific knowledge of leadership concepts gained through experience as well as formal education. They should be good decision-makers and be able to organize and coordinate work efficiently. Strong interpersonal skills are essential, due to the high percentage of time spent interacting with others. Today, principals are required to be intimately familiar with computer technology. This is because they are required to gather information, collect data, and coordinate technical resources for their students, teachers, and classrooms.


In 2002, principals earned a median annual salary of between $75,291 and $86,452, depending on the grade level of their schools. High school principals earned the most on average, followed by Jr. high/middle school principals, and finally, elementary school principals. Benefits for principals are typically very good, including 4 or 5 weeks of vacation each year and generous health and pension packages.

Training and Education

Most principals have a master’s degree in education administration or educational supervision. Some have a doctorate or specialized degree in education administration. In private schools, due to the lack of State licensure requirements, some principals have only a bachelor’s degree. In some States, principals are required to be licensed as school administrators, and many States use national standards developed by the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium. Some States also require principals to take continuing education courses in order to be able to renew their licenses.

Most principals hold teaching positions prior to advancing to a principal position. While some teachers are promoted straight to principal, most become assistant principals or gain experience in other central office administrative jobs such as department head, curriculum specialist, or subject matter advisor. In a few cases, principals have worked their way up from other positions, such as recruiter, guidance counselor, or librarian.


In 2002, education administrators (the occupational category to which principals belong) held about 427,000 jobs. 60% worked for State and local governments, and 20% worked for private institutions. Less than 5% were self-employed.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of principals is expected to grow faster than the average. A large percentage of principals are expected to retire during this period, and education continues to hold greater importance in people’s lives. There has been a steady increase in responsibility for principals, making their jobs much more stressful. They have become more accountable for the performance of students and teachers, as well as responsible for adhering to a growing number of government regulations. In many areas, overcrowded classrooms, safety issues, budgetary concerns, and teacher shortages have added to the stress. This combination of changes has discouraged many teachers from taking jobs as principals.

For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Education Degree directory.