Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

Career, Salary and Education Information

What Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals Do[About this section] [To Top]

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.

Duties of Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

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 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.

Work Environment for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals[About this section] [To Top]

Elementary, middle, and high school principals hold about 251,300 jobs. The largest employers of elementary, middle, and high school principals are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 78%
Elementary and secondary schools; private 17

Elementary, middle, and high school principals hold leadership positions with significant responsibility. Working with students may be rewarding. However, coordinating and interacting with faculty, parents, students, community members, and state and local policymakers can be demanding. Principals' work can sometimes be stressful because they are accountable for ensuring that schools meet state and federal standards for student performance and teacher qualification.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principal 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.

Many 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.

How to Become an Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals near you!

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.

Education for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

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.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

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 for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

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.

Important Qualities for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

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.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principal Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for elementary, middle, and high school principals is $92,510. 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 $59,910, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $135,770.

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 $93,940
Elementary and secondary schools; private 81,810

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.

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 for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of elementary, middle, and high school principals is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, 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 for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

As the large baby-boom generation retires, there may be better opportunities for candidates to advance into the principal occupation.

Employment projections data for Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Education administrators, elementary and secondary school 251,300 271,000 8 19,700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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