Across the United States, there are 13,588 public school districts tasked with promoting optimal learning for children and adolescents from Pre-K through 12th grade. School superintendents are basically the chief executive officers (CEOs) responsible for managing all operations in these districts. Superintendents can be appointed by the school board or elected by the district’s residents. School superintendents play a pivotal role in working with principals and teacher leaders to ensure student achievement goals are met. Superintendents provide overall direction to educational programs by implementing the school board’s mission. School superintendents wear many hats in handling the staffing, budgeting, curriculum design, human resources, and facility management aspects of the district.
According to the BLS, the 231,800 education administrators, including school superintendents, working in the United States make an average yearly salary of $91,780. In particular, school superintendents running elementary and secondary school districts earn an average of $91,990 each year. Those employed by local government bring home slightly more at $92,580.
New school superintendents just promoted to the position typically land in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings with an annual income around $59,250. However, school superintendents who have years of experience and run larger school districts eventually break the six-figure salary mark to earn over $129,300 annually.
School superintendents are given the primary responsibility of making the day-to-day decisions involved in maintaining top-notch educational programs for local youth. Superintendents are school spokespeople who interact daily with students, parents, teachers, principals, school staff, and government officials. School superintendents have many managerial duties, including planning budgets, allocating financial resources, hiring/firing senior staff, setting curriculum standards, analyzing student test scores, handling teacher disciplinary matters, forming school expansion plans, and leading school board meetings. Superintendents coordinate the work of all schools to make certain state and federal instructional statutes are being met.
First and foremost, school superintendents must be skilled communicators with the effective interpersonal skills to express school plans either verbally or in writing. Superintendents need to have the listening skills to hear community complaints and take into account several differing viewpoints. Although superintendents won’t be teaching, having pedagogical knowledge is important to understand the best practices for maximizing student learning. School superintendents must have the leadership skills to set a clear vision and monitor the district’s performance. Creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills will help superintendents achieve goals even when government funding is low. Being flexible is also a must since school superintendents must constantly adapt to new curriculum and staff changes.
Degree and Education Requirements
Before you can become a school superintendent, you’ll have to enroll in an accredited college or university to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Most aspiring superintendents start their career with an undergraduate major in elementary, middle, early childhood, or special education. Those selecting secondary education may major in a specific content area like English, history, or mathematics. Having a master’s degree is the minimal requirement for school superintendents though. Attending graduate school for a Master of Education (M. Ed.) Educational Leadership or School Administration is smart. Some universities even have Post-Master’s Certificate or Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) programs for superintendents. For larger districts, superintendent candidates who have a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) will be preferred.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Like any career, working as a school superintendent comes with its fair shares of advantages and drawbacks. On the plus side, superintendents are given the highest title in a school district and supreme power over running district operations. School superintendents have the ability to positively touch the lives of thousands without managing a classroom. Superintendents have a community-building role with plenty of people interaction, which is ideal for extroverts. Of course, being a superintendent also comes with a big paycheck and great benefits. However, competition is fierce for landing the coveted role of school superintendent. Superintendents often have to field angry questions and complaints from their community. Managing multiple school buildings and hundreds of staff members is a stressful task. School superintendents often must invest significantly more than 40 hours per week to their administrative duties.
Gaining classroom experience is essential to become a school superintendent. While earning your bachelor’s degree, take advantage of field practicum and student teaching to learn about the inner workings of schools. At graduation, you’ll likely have to pass the Praxis exams and fulfill other varying requirements for state teaching certification. Acquiring several years of teaching experience is recommended before pursuing graduate school. Make certain you’re selecting a master’s or doctoral program that satisfies your state’s licensing requirements for school administrators. Depending on where you live, passing an exam and background check may be required. Most superintendents work for two to five years as principals to better understand educational leadership. Eventually, you can be promoted by the school board and hired under a contract for a specified time period, such as three years.
School enrollment is projected to increase steadily through 2024, thus creating a higher demand for elementary and secondary administrators. More schools may be opened to accommodate the growing population of children aged four to 18. Opportunities for advancement to school superintendent will be better as many baby boomers reach retirement age. However, budget constraints from state and local governments will continue to tighten. District growth is often limited by available funding. The BLS predicts that the employment of school administrators will grow slower than average by six percent over the next decade. Demand for school superintendents will be highest in public school districts, especially across the South and West. In some cases, superintendents could find jobs in public magnet, charter, private, or parochial schools.
Overall, school superintendents have an upper-level education role in which they claim sole responsibility for leading the daily operations of school districts. Being a school superintendent is ideal for teachers and principals who wish to share their academic vision with the largest possible segment of students. As one of education’s most competitive jobs, school superintendents are seasoned educators charting the course for their district. If you aspire to become a school superintendent, you’ll have the rewarding opportunity to tailor programs that can infinitely improve students’ academic, vocational, social, and mental development.