Teaching Careers Updated November 5, 2019

Assistant Principal Careers: Job, Education and Salary Information

By Alisa Bates, PhD October 4, 2012

An assistant principal, also known as a vice principal, is an education administrator responsible for facilitating the day-to-day requirements of their school. They need to ensure the safety of students, as well as fulfillment of federal and state student and teacher performance guidelines. This leadership position includes interactions with students, teachers, other administrators, board members, and parents.

While days are fast-paced and often unpredictable, the assistant principal has a meaningful and influential role in educational environments.

At-a-glance: Assistant principals

Assistant principal job description

When you think back to when you attended school, you may remember your vice principal as a stern man or woman who kept the students in line. And, while assistant principals are usually the first ones to handle behavior problems, the role has evolved beyond being just a disciplinarian and operations manager to also include instructional leadership.

Assistant principals deal with the issues of school management, student activities and services, community relations, personnel, and curriculum instruction. They coordinate with principals and board members to assist in defining and enforcing school policies and guidelines for students, staff, and faculty. They conceptualize the goals of their school and identify objectives for instruction and extracurricular programs. Working with faculty, assistant principals make suggestions, listen, and share experiences encouraging teacher improvement and motivation within classrooms.

Typical duties:

While no two days are the same, typical job duties for an assistant principal include:

  • Enforcing attendance rules
  • Meeting with parents to discuss student behavioral or learning problems
  • Responding to disciplinary issues
  • Coordinating use of school facilities for day-to-day activities and special events
  • Working with teachers to develop curriculum standards
  • Developing and maintaining school safety procedures
  • Evaluating teachers and learning materials to determine areas where improvement is needed
  • Coordinating and planning class schedules
  • Assessing data such as state standards and test scores
  • Coordinating transportation for students
  • Hiring and training staff
  • Ordering and approving equipment and supply orders
  • Maintaining systems for attendance, performance, planning, and other reports
  • Supervising grounds and facilities maintenance
  • Walking the hallways and checking in on teachers and classrooms
  • Responding to emails from teachers, parents and community members

Then there are those miscellaneous special projects, which run the gamut of buying decorations for the eighth-grade dance, organizing a talent show, or writing a grant for a literacy program.

Who makes a good assistant principal?

Someone who has:

  • A desire and capacity to work with children and young adults
  • Leadership qualities
  • Effective communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Confidence and determination
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Good judgment
  • Administrative and organizational skills
  • Compassion and empathy
  • An ability to uphold rules and regulations
  • Flexibility to work in different environments, including but not limited to: classrooms, offices, buses, field trips, parent-teacher-faculty meetings, and official functions

Assistant principal in-depth

Assistant principals at varying levels

Assistant principals can work at elementary, middle, or high schools. In larger school districts, there may be multiple assistant principals per school, each specializing in a specific subject area, such as history or math. There are many similarities for assistant principals, regardless of the education level, but there are some structural differences in academics and best practices for dealing with students of various age groups.

Elementary assistant principals

Assistant principals oversee students in grades K-5 — ages 5-12. The role of assistant principal at an elementary school can be different from that of a middle school or high school assistant principal.

One major difference for elementary assistant principals is a better ongoing focus on instructional leadership. Disciplinary issues may be a main reason for this difference. Although behavior issues and disciplinary actions are still a part of an elementary assistant principal’s day, they are often less frequent and less time consuming. Less time involved dealing with conflicts allows elementary administration to focus on academic and school improvement priorities.

A study by the Wallace Foundation found elementary school principals were more involved in the educational process than secondary school principals, and this extends to assistant principals as well. This involvement includes developing the curriculum, coaching teachers on instructional methods, and assessing student learning.

Elementary school assistant principals also interact more with parents than their secondary school counterparts. Parents of younger children tend to be more involved with their child’s school. Most elementary schools also have a parent organization that works closely with the school and, in turn, the assistant principal.

Student population is another difference for elementary assistant principals. In larger school districts, there are more elementary schools. Each elementary school instructs a smaller percentage of the overall population. While the high school in a district may have 1350 in attendance, one of the elementary schools in the same district may only have 450 students.

Middle and high school assistant principals

Many middle and high school assistant principals are responsible for maintaining discipline within the school. Many spend more time with disciplinary actions and less with instructional leadership. As a result, high school and middle school assistant principals interact more with students and spend less time with teachers or in meetings. Students are more likely at these levels to be late, skip classes, or miss school altogether. Therefore, assistant principals in secondary schools also have an extra level of responsibility to monitor truancy.

As with teachers, the higher the grade level, the more concentrated the knowledge base. Unlike elementary assistant principals, secondary assistant principals cannot be expected to have expertise in all the subject areas their school covers. Because of this, their guidance on instructional content can be limited. Much of the instructional and academic and school improvement priorities are delegated to department chairs, who are then under the supervision of the assistant principal.

Education requirements for assistant principals

  • Education: Master’s or doctorate degree
  • Typical study time: 5-10 years

Principals and vice principals typically need a master’s degree, such as Concordia University-Portland’s educational leadership, education administration, or a related field, and several years of teaching experience to qualify for employment. Many states require master’s degrees for a school administration license.

If you’re a teacher who aspires to be an assistant principal, you’re in good company. A survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) found principals averaged 10 years as a teacher before moving into an administrative role.

Most assistant principals take the following steps:

  1. Bachelor’s degree in a teachable subject — including student teaching practicum
  2. Successful completion of state-required testing and certification for teaching certification
  3. At least 3-5 years teaching in the classroom
  4. Completion of a master’s program in administrative field
  5. Successful completion of administrative testing and requirements for school administrative license or certification

Certification requirements for assistant principals

State certification shows that an individual is prepared to face the challenges and use their knowledge in a variety of situations effectively. Most administrative certification tests evaluate organizational skills, instructional knowledge, and help to prove individuals to be effective in the positive growth and change within the school system.

Most states require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators. The requirements for licensure differ from state to state. In addition, some states require principals to pass a test and take continuing education classes to maintain their license. Most states require a background check as part of the certification process.

As requirements vary by state, visit TeachingCertification.com’s Administrative Certification page to see requirements relevant to you.

Although many private schools may not require a school administrator license to be an assistant principal, a master’s degree can increase employment opportunities.

Salary range for assistant principals

Salaries for assistant principals vary based on education, geographic region, school district size, and years in the profession. According to Payscale.com, the average salary of an assistant principal falls between $53,000 and $101,000.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, the average pay for assistant principals by state varies from $54,751 to $77,478.

Here is a snapshot of average assistant principal salaries:

  • Glassdoor.com: $88,585
  • ZipRecruiter.com: $70,802
  • Salary.com: $87,170
  • Payscale.com: $72,003
  • Indeed.com: $71,642

Employment for elementary and secondary principals is expected to grow at a rate of 4% from 2018 to 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment growth may depend on state and local government budgets.

Advantages and disadvantages of being an assistant principal

Pros

  • Every day is unique
  • Higher salary relative to other education professionals
  • Able to implement your vision for the school
  • Celebrate school successes
  • Have an impact on students and educators
  • The role is usually a precursor to becoming school principal
  • Spending time with children and making a difference in their lives

Cons

  • Little time for reflection or planning
  • Numerous day-to-day tasks
  • Disciplinary issues can consume many hours in the day
  • Schedules over 40 hours a week are common
  • Greater workload
  • The politics involved with students, parents, teachers, and other administrators

Professional development for assistant principals

It’s important for assistant principals to engage in professional development to stay up-to-date on educational trends and to hone leadership skills. Most states require assistant principals to take continuing education courses in order to keep their certifications current. Many of these courses can even be taken online or through a professional association.

Professional associations for assistant principals

Enrolling in professional organizations provide opportunities to network and access to journals and research.

Best of the Web

Favorite assistant principal blogs and websites

Favorite assistant principal Twitter and Instagram accounts to follow

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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