How to Become a Superintendent

Education is light, lack of it darkness Russian Proverb
School administrators and principal holding books

The superintendent of schools is the CEO, the chief executive officer, of all schools in his or her district. The superintendent is responsible for achieving the vision of those who have been voted onto the school board. This can be accomplished through decisions about educational programs, staffing, physical facilities and budgets.

Someone who is to become a school superintendent will be highly familiar with educational policy, reform and current trends. This person will have the ability to multitask while keeping the goals of the board and county in mind. This person should be budget conscious, but also know when repairs and upgrades are needed and necessary. A school superintendent must be a leader, supervisor and manager. This person needs to be able to check qualifications and find the ideal candidate for upper-level positions such as principals. A school superintendent is someone that has to make tough decisions on the daily basis.

A superintendent of schools is typically a contract-based position, so the renewal of the contract is an area that is open for growth. Statistically speaking, the amount of superintendent jobs is low as there are few positions when compared to other educational jobs. However, since this is a contractual position, the person in the job may change more frequently.

How to Become a School Superintendent?

A school superintendent's qualifications are set by each school district, but some standards do apply. It is expected that a superintendent has at least a master's degree or higher. Many superintendents will have at least a Master's Degree in Education Administration or Leadership.

Requirements to Become a Superintendent of Schools

The individual state will determine whether a superintendent of schools must hold a certain certificate in a specified area such as leadership and/or administration. In addition, some states require a potential superintendent to pass exams as specified at that state level. The superintendent will also be expected to have two to five years of administrative experience as a principal or other school administrator. This means that the superintendent would have had to complete a teaching certificate, years of teaching experience and possible leadership classes just to gain the principal job before becoming superintendent.

This all means that a program to become a school superintendent will include education classes, administration classes, leadership classes and developmental classes over the course of many years. A superintendent will also have taken many hours of professional development as a teacher and administrator. As mentioned, each state can require different qualifications so more information can be gained by researching the area in which you wish to be superintendent of schools.

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What Does a Superintendent of Schools Do?

A school superintendent is typically a contractual worker who is hired for a specified length of time. This means that he or she must do the assigned work for the length of the contract. The superintendent's actual duties may include the hiring and placement of principals for the district. In addition, he or she may choose or hire certain positions within the board of education. The superintendent of schools is also in charge of making decisions about educational programs, spending and staffing for particular facilities.

Though the superintendent may not spend any length of time in a particular school, he or she does need to be familiar with each school in the district to make sure the necessary qualifications for the actual building and staff are being met. The school superintendent would make the decision of whether a school needs updates or consolidations.

The superintendent usually has a central office within the board of education. However, much of his or her time will be spent in meetings or touring schools as needed.

School Superintendent Jobs & Job Description

High-level administration beyond that of the principal and vice-principal team is required in order to steer a school district's policies and mission in a progressive manner toward excellence for today's students. School superintendents can administer unified school districts, elementary districts or high school districts - the role is largely the same, though a background in teaching is preferred. Superintendents:

  • Ensure that all primary and secondary school programs and activities are pursuant to district policies and regulations
  • Promote student academic achievement at all levels
  • Advocate for equitable academic and extracurricular programs in all facets of the school community
  • Oversee the activities of school principals and school operations, including educational, curricular and financial systems and the budget
  • Make staffing additions, reductions or moves in accordance with district policies
  • Provide recommendations to school administrators for to program adjustments or modifications and facility and equipment improvements
  • Process and disseminate school-based information to the Board, Administration, the court
  • Oversee the recruitment, selection, placement, training, promotion, transfer, compensation and termination of personnel
  • Identify problem areas in school improvement with the appropriate departments and resolve these concerns in an effective and confidential manner
  • Assist and oversee the creation and implementation of audits, strategic planning and measurement in such a way as to focus on the action
  • Act in concert with documented district mission statement, beliefs, and strategic objectives with an encompassing understanding of district policies, regulations, goals and objectives, as well as education legislation

There are many career pathways for educational superintendents, both inside the field of education and outside. Read on to learn more about this exciting field.

Where Can a Certified Superintendent of Schools Work?

A school superintendent usually works in the public or charter school realm. The superintendent oversees all schools in a specific district. A superintendent for the public school district must make sure the schools are implementing the required curriculum chosen by the board members and state, but those working with charter schools may not have this specific duty. Along the same lines, the requirements for a superintendent for the different school types can vary greatly, along with the expected duties.

School Superintendent Organizations & Associations

AASA - The School Superintendents Association: The School Superintendents Association advocates for equitable access for all students to the highest quality public education and develops and supports school system leaders.

NASS - National Association of School Superintendents: The National Association of School Superintendent is a national association that serves the needs of school superintendents with a mission of enabling superintendents to facilitate positive learning outcomes for all students and to effectively advocate for public education.

NABSE - National Alliance of Black School Educators: The NABSE is a national nonprofit organization devoted to furthering the academic success for the nation's children - particularly children of African descent.

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What is the Salary for a Superintendent?

The salary of a superintendent will vary greatly depending on the district in which he or she works. On average, the salary of education administrators for primary and secondary schools nationally is $102,650 per year, according to 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Superintendents are almost exclusively found in public schools. Superintendents achieve their position by working through the ranks of teachers and administration before working to become a superintendent in the latter part of their career. With that said, experience is a dominant factor in determining salary. Superintendents have usually invested heavily in their professional development and post-secondary educations, so while education is not directly a factor on salary, it does have some influence.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary, reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed March 2023.