What They Do: Elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee all school operations, including daily school activities.
Work Environment: Principals work in public and private elementary, middle, and high schools. Typically, principals work year round.
How to Become One: Principals typically need a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. In addition, they need teaching experience.
Salary: The median annual wage for elementary, middle, and high school principals is $98,420.
Job Outlook: Employment of elementary, middle, and high school principals is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of elementary, middle, and high school principals with similar occupations.
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Elementary, middle, and high school principals manage all school operations, including daily school activities. They coordinate curriculums, oversee teachers and other school staff, and provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.
Elementary, middle, and high school principals typically do the following:
Elementary, middle, and high school principals manage the overall operation of schools, including building maintenance and cafeteria services. They set and oversee academic goals and ensure that teachers have the necessary equipment and resources. Principals may establish and oversee additional programs in their school, such as counseling, special education programs, and before- and after-school childcare programs.
In public schools, principals also implement standards and programs set by the school district, state, and federal regulations. They evaluate and prepare reports on their school's performance based on these standards by assessing student achievement and teacher performance.
Principals serve as the public representative of their school. They meet with superintendents, legislators, and members of the community to request or explain funding for their schools. They also address the concerns of parents and the community.
The duties of principals vary by the size of the school and district. In larger schools and districts, principals 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 oversee the hiring process of all school personnel, including teachers, custodians, and cafeteria workers. 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 administrative duties to their assistant principals. In some school districts, assistant principals handle a specific subject area, such as literacy or math. Assistants may be assigned to handle student safety, provide student academic counseling, or enforce disciplinary or attendance rules. They may also coordinate buses or supervise building and grounds maintenance.
Elementary, middle, and high school principals hold about 292,200 jobs. The largest employers of elementary, middle, and high school principals are as follows:
|Elementary and secondary schools; local||76%|
|Elementary and secondary schools; private||18%|
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.
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.
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Most schools require elementary, middle, and high school principals to have a master's degree in education administration or leadership. Principals also need experience as teachers.
Principals typically need a master's degree in education leadership or education administration. These master's degree programs prepare future principals 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.
Principals need several years of prior work experience as a teacher. 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.
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.
An assistant principal can advance to become a principal. Some principals advance to become superintendents, which may require completion of additional education. Others become instructional coordinators.
Communication skills. Principals must communicate effectively with students, teachers, and parents. For example, when dealing with student disciplinary or academic issues, they must consult with and listen to parents and teachers in order to understand the problem.
Critical-thinking skills. Principals analyze student test results and testing procedures to determine if improvements are needed. They must assess the available options and choose the best means to help students achieve better results.
Decisionmaking skills. Because principals are responsible for students, staff members, and the overall operation of the school, they consider many factors when making decisions.
Interpersonal skills. Because principals work with teachers, parents, and superintendents, 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 appropriate solutions.
The median annual wage for elementary, middle, and high school principals is $98,420. 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 $61,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $153,520.
The median annual wages for elementary, middle, and high school principals in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Elementary and secondary schools; local||$98,870|
|Elementary and secondary schools; private||$79,780|
Most principals work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. 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.
Employment of elementary, middle, and high school principals is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 23,500 openings for elementary, middle, and high school principals are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
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.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2021||Projected Employment, 2031||Change, 2021-31|
|Education administrators, elementary and secondary school||292,200||306,500||5||14,200|
For more information on elementary, middle, and high school principals, visit
National Association of Elementary School Principals
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.