Becoming a High School Principal: Job Description & Salary Info

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The median annual salary for primary and secondary school principals was $89,540 in 2014. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a high school principal is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a High School Principal

As a principal, you're the leader of a high school. Read below to consider the pros and cons of this career before making a decision.

Pros of Being a High School Principal
Can be personally rewarding*
Pays well ($89,540 median annual salary for elementary and secondary school principals)*
Variety in daily activities*
Can work at many types of schools*

Cons of Being a High School Principal
Can be stressful*
Need to earn a master's degree*
May work evenings, summers*
Must be licensed by the state*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description

High school principals supervise teachers, meet with parents and handle discipline issues with students. As a principal, you'll make sure that teachers and staff members have the resources to educate students. High school principals prepare budgets and ensure that school facilities are in good repair and safe.

In large school districts, principals may have the support of more staff members and administrators. However, in a smaller school district, the principal may have more autonomy. There are many types of high schools where a principal can work, including public schools as well as secular and religious private schools. While teachers and students usually get the summer off, principals may work year-round. You will often have to work evenings and attend athletic events or participate in meetings.

Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasted that employment of principals at all grade levels would grow by about 6% from 2012-2022, which is slower than average for all occupations. The rate of increase will vary by region, and more job opportunities are expected in areas of greater population growth, such as the South and West. However, the BLS warned that tough economic conditions could mean a budgetary shortfall, leading to employee layoffs in a school system despite enrollment growth.

Salary Information

The BLS reported the median annual salary for education administrators, including school principals at all grade levels, was $89,540 in May 2014, and that annual salaries for most principals ranged from $59,250 to $129,300.

Career Skills and Requirements

Most high school principals are experienced classroom teachers. At the secondary school level, this involves earning a bachelor's degree in a content area, such as English or biology, and taking education courses. Principals in public schools usually hold master's degrees in education administration or education leadership. These 2-year master's programs include courses in communications, the role of the school in the community, teacher supervision and innovations in curriculum. Master's degree programs may include a clinical internship that gives degree candidates practical experience.

Most states require that public school principals hold licenses. Requirements vary, but usually the principal must have a master's degree and pass an examination. Some states require continuing education courses in order to maintain the license.

Useful Skills

A high school principal must demonstrate excellent leadership skills. The principal must be a good communicator and have the ability to work with parents, students, teachers and community members. Jobs postings for high school principals on call for someone who can manage and motivate teachers, staff members and students.

What Employers Want

Experience in administration is the common element of job postings for high school principals. In addition to meeting licensure, education and experience requirements, employers want someone who can build a team atmosphere at the school. Here is a sampling of job postings from real employers in April 2012:

  • A school district in South Carolina was looking for a licensed principal with skill in evaluating and improving teachers' performances. The employer desired success in resolving disciplinary issues, as well as experience in developing and implementing budgets.
  • An online charter school in Oregon wants a high school principal who would work with teachers and students over the telephone and Internet to ensure that learning goals were being met. The principal would maintain a relationship with the state board of education and make presentations for recruitment purposes. This job called for someone who was flexible, technologically savvy and a team player.
  • In Illinois, a school system was looking for a principal who could transform an under-performing school. The posting called for someone adept at forging relationships between parents, the community and business sponsors. Experience in an urban school was required.
  • In New York, a religious school needed a principal with a strong background in curriculum, instruction and assessment. The ad said the person hired must understand the Catholic faith and education system.

How to Stand Out

A high school principal can stand out by continually increasing knowledge and job skills through mentorships, continuing education courses, webinars, conferences and seminars. Several organizations for school administrators, including the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), offer resources for improvement.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standard (NBPTS) is developing a National Board Certification program for principals, similar to the one it has in place for teachers. This program will identify and reward principals who exhibit nine core qualities that are vital for leaders in education.

Alternative Careers

There are many career options in education besides becoming a high school principal. If you really enjoy working with the students one-on-one, perhaps you would be more content remaining a teacher. A teacher earned a median annual salary of about $54,000 in May 2011, the BLS reported.

On the other hand, if you want to impact many students and teachers, you can become an instructional coordinator. Instructional coordinators work with teachers and administrators district-wide to improve their teaching and implement new curriculum. To obtain this position, you'll need a master's degree in curriculum and development. The median annual salary for this job was about $59,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS.

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