School District Superintendent: Education, Salary, and Outlook
A school district superintendent is responsible for the overall performance of their district. Hiring new teachers, ensuring that current teachers have up-to-date certifications and follow continuing education requirements, and making sure that the students excel puts a lot of responsibility on individuals holding this position. Depending on the size of the district, many school systems have both an assistant superintendent (or a couple, with specific duties) and an overall superintendent who coordinates the various educational goals set by the state and the school board.
These positions are typically filled either through a community election or an appointment by the school board. In addition to overseeing the staff of the school system, superintendents may also be responsible for budgeting, curricula design, human resources, and facility management.
At a glance: School district superintendent
The day-to-day responsibilities of a superintendent are many and varied. They must ensure that the students under their supervision have top-notch education and a safe environment, from physical safety to nutrition to enacting anti-bullying measures. Superintendents are also required to work within parameters that may include state and federal curricula requirements and available budgets. Effective communication skills and a strong ability to prioritize are essential for success in this position.
A School district superintendent is essentially like the CEO of a school district. Although they may delegate certain responsibilities to one or more assistant superintendents, they are still accountable for the overall performance of the students and teachers.
The job duties for this position include:
- Serving as school spokesperson for the community regarding all district matters
- Acting as a liaison between educational staff and the school board
- Overseeing hiring, discipline, and firing of all district staff
- Evaluating student test scores
- Implementing state-mandated educational requirements into the school curricula
- Writing school budgets and allocating financial resources
- Approving cafeteria menus and ensuring their compliance with federal nutritional guidelines
- Forming school expansion plans
- Leading school board meetings
- Advocating for increased funding from local and state legislatures
- Making safety decisions regarding inclement weather closings or delays, and establishing extra security measures such as metal detectors or campus police presence
- Interacting with students at the campus level by attending games and performances
The size of a school district, as well as its location, may determine how much time a superintendent spends on any one aspect of their job. Larger school systems may have one or more assistant superintendents reporting to the superintendent, each with a different focus, such as financial planning and budgets, curricula guidelines, community and campus involvement, or staff training, hiring, and discipline. Before considering where you’d like to apply, determine what the school board’s expectations are regarding your overall responsibilities and whether, as a superintendent, you’re expected to manage each aspect of the job personally.
What makes a good school superintendent?
The qualifications for a superintendent range from experience with financial analysis to strong interpersonal skills and professional communication. Because superintendents have to juggle many different responsibilities, a disciplined approach to priorities and time management is key. Being able to communicate professionally, both orally and in writing, is another essential skill. For positions that are elected, your charisma and ability to inspire others to support your leadership is also important.
School superintendent in-depth
Education requirement for superintendents
Degree Required: Master’s or doctoral degree in education leadership or school administration.
The size of the school district typically determines the educational level required for both assistant and general school superintendents. Larger school districts typically require an EdD or PhD, but some may accept an MEd degree.
Certification requirements for school superintendent
In addition to the professional degrees required for these positions, there are professional certifications that will not only help you perform better but also display your breadth of knowledge.
Superintendent and assistant superintendent of schools salary
Compensation for school superintendents can vary widely, depending on the size and location of the school district. Expect assistant positions to be paid less than the general superintendent, although an assistant superintendent position in a large, well-funded school system may pay more than a full superintendent in a smaller or poorer district.
Average salaries for school superintendents:
Average salaries for assistant school superintendent:
School superintendent jobs are the highest ranking in the school district. Although the experience and education requirements are steep, these are some of the most competitive positions in the educational field. As school enrollment increases, some districts may split, or add more support and assistant positions to the roster to accommodate the growing need.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment projections for school superintendent positions are expected to grow at a rate of around 4% from 2018 to 2028, on par with the overall employment outlook for the nation as a whole. Texas, California, Illinois, New York, and Ohio are the five largest states for enrollment and employment growth, while Vermont, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Connecticut are among the slowest growing states.
Challenges and opportunities for superintendents
For those with a passion for education and a vision for the direction of their school district, a superintendent job can be very rewarding. With executive discretion over the curricula offered, the ability to advocate for increased funding for district and special programs like the arts or vocational training, and a leadership position on the school board, superintendents have the power to shape the direction of learning and create vibrant, well-rounded schools.
- High salary plus government benefits: Many schools have excellent health care and retirement benefits, as well as other perks, such as discounted in-state college tuition for the children of school employees. This, plus a high median salary, makes compensation a big plus.
- There’s always variety in the day of a superintendent because of the breadth of their responsibility and constantly shifting priorities.
- The control over the direction that the district goes is largely in your hands. If you have goals for improving student and teacher performance, you’ll be able to put these into place. You’ll also be able to take credit for and celebrate the success of different team performances, school test results, or teacher accolades.
- Budget and funding shortfalls and prioritizing which programs to keep, can make determining the overall curricula and elective activities offered tricky.
- The expectation that you’ll attend extracurricular events, games, and programs may cut into your family and personal time.
- Responsibility for the success of your district goes two ways. If test scores drop or teacher satisfaction is low, it’s on your shoulders to correct them.
- Finessing negativity from parents and the community about the goings-on in your schools is your responsibility. As the overall supervisor, you may have to correct poor decisions that you had no hand in making. Handling concerns and complaints with professionalism and compassion can be challenging
- If you’re an elected representative, you need to take time to respond to the community that elected you. You also need to make sure that you steer clear of anything polarizing that could affect your reelection chances
School superintendent professional development
A superintendent position is the pinnacle of an educator’s career. However, if you want further career opportunities, you may be promoted from an assistant superintendent to the overall superintendent or from a smaller school district to a more prestigious one.
If your role is an elected one already, you may choose to run for office in your state’s department of education, possibly as the education secretary or another position where you’re involved in the direction of the entire state’s educational system. Leaders in these positions may even rise to a position in the nation’s cabinet in the Department of Education or with the National Education Association, advocating for greater funding and improved performance for all the schools in the country.
Many superintendents are required to renew their certifications regularly. Depending on your state’s requirements, you may need to sit for regular exams for the Certificate in School Leadership or Certificate of Principalship. If you currently hold a Masters in Education, your next step may be completing your EdD or PhD in Education or School Administration, to be considered for a position in a larger district.
Professional associations for superintendents
Professional associations in education are a valuable resource for superintendents. Many of these are open to educators at all levels, from teachers to your peers. You’ll have the opportunity to exchange ideas, look for potential talent for your own schools, and network with a group of people that have the same interest in lobbying for additional funding as you. You may be interested in joining one or more of these networks:
- American School Superintendents Association
- Coalition for Community Schools
- National Education Association
- National Association of School Superintendents
These are just a few national organizations for school superintendents, each of which may have a branch in your region. Many states have similar associations at the state level that allow you to meet others close by.
Best of the web
Connecting with other superintendents and discovering new initiatives that your peers are trying can help you become a better leader for your schools. The internet can be a valuable tool for you to grow your professional network and learn more.
Many superintendents have a blog on the school district’s home page and a few deal with issues similar to those you face. Some may have insights and opportunities for you to improve your own district’s performance.
- The Edvocate: @AdvocateforEd
- MindShift: @MindShiftKQED
- Dr. Anael Alston: @DrAAlston
- TeachThoughtPD: @TeachThoughtPD
- Edutopia: @edutopia