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How Much Do Principals Make

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

School Principals Go to the Head of the Class in Salaries

As the head of the school, principals have a lot on their plates ... or desks. First are the responsibilities everyone sees: managing teachers and other staff, maintaining a safe and productive learning environment, and popping out of the office to raise a quizzical, stern eyebrow and break up any ruckus going on in the halls. Not so different from a mother's job managing the total household. And, as with mothers, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes that you don't see. Fortunately, if they make the grade, principals are rewarded for their education, experience and the pressures of the job with high salaries.

Job Description

School principals are directly responsible for hiring the school’s staff, from teachers to janitors. Although in a large school, other staff may help with this, ultimately, the responsibility of ensuring the school is fully staffed and running well falls on the principal’s shoulders. Principals are also responsible for actively managing the staff: observing them at work and assessing their performances, conducting reviews and arranging for training as needed.

The principal is also involved in developing curriculum standards and ensuring that they are met, approving and attending school activities, and preparing reports on student achievement. Principals often meet with parents and teachers to discuss students’ problems, as well as to handle disciplinary problems as needed. As the public face of the school in the community, a school’s principal often attends meetings that concern the school.

Principals do all this and more while having the unenviable role of the keeper of the school’s budget. From supplies to the school play, all activities must fall within the budget.

Maintaining a safe school environment means more today than ever before. Principals must have security procedures in place and make sure everyone understands them, including conducting regular drills so staff and students know what to do in an emergency. They must have a policy on bullying and know when it’s time to step in and intervene.

The job of principal has changed in recent years as states have forced schools to become accountable for student learning, according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Increasingly, principals are called upon to lead instruction, help teachers improve and fire those who don’t. The extra pressure causes poor-performing schools to experience high turnover rates in their principals.

Education Requirements

School principals must first gain experience as teachers. Then, when they encounter any of the many decisions they’ll have to make as principals, they’ll understand the teachers’ viewpoints as well. They’ll understand students better, too, having taught in classrooms and experienced the day-to-day schedules and issues that teachers experience. Teachers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.

To become a principal, at least a master’s degree is required, preferably in education leadership or administration. This graduate work prepares them to manage staff, set and assess school goals, create and manage school budgets, handle parents’ expectations and concerns, and learn how to make the school a part of the community.

The median salary for public elementary, middle and high school principals was $93,940 in May 2016. Private school median salaries were somewhat lower, at $81,810. Median salaries are the midpoint, which means that half the principals were paid more, and half were paid less.


Principals work on-site at elementary, middle and high schools. In 2016, most principals, 78 percent, worked in public schools, while another 17 percent worked in private schools. Principals work year-round, including summers when children may not be in school. During this time, they hire teachers and other staff, schedule maintenance and order supplies for the school year.

When school is in session, principals may work extra hours in the evenings and on weekends, attending school activities and community events.

For someone who enjoys working with children, school environments can be bright and pleasant. Music and singing may emanate from one room and speeches from another. The school year may be peppered with fun activities designed to motivate students, such as “read-ins” and Character Days, science fairs and geography bees. Students’ artwork and ideas line the hallways. Middle school “mean girls” and cafeteria fights? Not so much fun.

Years of Experience

Those who aspire to become principals must first spend years as teachers. They often serve as assistant principals at one or more schools before being hired as a principal.

Job Growth Trend

The need for school principals at all levels is expected to grow about 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is about average for all jobs. Highly populated, growing areas with young children are likely to build new schools and may need more principals. Large schools need more principals per school than smaller schools. And, as baby boomer principals retire, those jobs will need to be filled.