Why Become an Assistant Principal in a Middle or High School?

Classroom in a school
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Assistant principals, also called vice-principals, wear more hats in a day than they take off students. First, they support the principal in the administrative operation of a school. They may plan schedules for teachers or for testing. They may directly supervise lunch, hallways, special events. They may evaluate teachers. They are usually tasked with handling student discipline.

One reason for the multiple roles is that the assistant principal must be ready to take over all the responsibilities of the school principal in the event of an absence or illness. Another reason is that the assistant principal's position can be a stepping stone to the principal's job.

Typically, mid-size to large schools employ more than one assistant principal. They may be assigned a specific grade level or group. Several assistant principals may be organized to be responsible for a specific duty day-to-day tasks. As a school administrator, assistant principals typically work year-round. Most assistant principals start their careers as teachers.

Responsibilities of an Assistant Principal

  • Assist the principal in interviewing and evaluating instructional and non-instructional staff.
  • Supervise instructional and non-instructional staff.
  • Help create school-wide goals including those related to student learning and student behavior.
  • Manage student behavioral issues including those in the cafeteria along with those referred by teachers and bus drivers.
  • Supervise or arrange for supervision of student activities both during and after school hours including school assemblies, athletic activities, and music and drama productions.
  • Share responsibility for setting and meeting the school's budget.
  • Set up the academic schedule for teachers and students.
  • Keep track of all activities on the school calendar.
  • Conduct staff meetings.

Education Requirements

Typically, an assistant principal must hold at least a master's degree along with state specific certification. Most states require teaching experience.

Common Characteristics of Assistant Principals

Effective assistant principals share many of the same characteristics, including:

  • Strong organizational skills. Assistant principals often have to juggle a number of high priority tasks that require them to be organized in order to be successful.
  • Attention to detail. From keeping track of the school calendar to evaluating teachers, assistant principals find that attention to detail is a necessary requirement.
  • A desire to help students succeed. While many people see the assistant principals as the disciplinary arm of the administrative staff, their main goal should be to help students achieve to their greatest potential.
  • Trustworthiness. Assistant principals deal with sensitive information every day. Therefore, they must be honest and discreet.
  • Diplomacy. Assistant principals often have to deal with heated situations between students, parents, and teachers. Tact and diplomacy can go a long way towards dealing with difficult problems.
  • Effective communicator. Assistant principals may often be the "voice of the school" in daily operations. They need to be proficient in the use of different media platforms (audio, visual, e-mail).
  • Familiar with technology. Assistant principals may need to use multiple software platforms such as PowerSchool Student Information System or Administrator's Plus or Blackboard Collaborate for attendance/grades; SMART for agency compliance;  Schoology or Curriculum Trak for curriculum; Frontline Insights Platform for evaluation.
  • ​The desire to be active and visible. Students and teachers need to see that the assistant principals are involved in the school in order for them to have the type of authority that makes others want to listen to them.

How to Succeed

Here are a few simple ideas that can help assistant principals improve relationships and contribute to a positive school culture:

  • Get to Know Your Teachers as People: Knowing teachers as people with families and concerns is important. Caring about them can help improve cooperation and give them a more positive outlook about their jobs.
  • Be Involved: Notice who are the teachers and students who are the most engaged and the least engaged. Recognize and support the efforts of the most engaged and seek ways to motivate the least engaged.  Offer to participate in programs or take students for a half hour mini-lesson.
  • Respect Teacher Time: Avoid setting up long meetings which put a strain on a teacher's day. Give teachers the gift of time.
  • Celebrate Success: Recognize the efforts of teachers and how those efforts translate into success. Publicly acknowledge what is going right in the school. Encourage teachers and students in order to motivate them.

Sample Salary Scale

According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for principals, including assistants, in the United States in 2015 was $90,410.

However, this varies widely by state. The Occupational Employment Statistics reported these annual mean wages for 2016:

State Employment (1) Employment per thousand jobs Annual mean wage
Texas 24,970 2.13 $82,430
California 20,120 1.26 $114,270
New York 19,260 2.12 $120,810
Illinois 12,100 2.05 $102,450
Ohio 9,740 1.82 $83,780

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 6 percent growth in jobs for principals in the decade from 2016 to 2024. For comparison, the expected percent change in employment for all occupations is 7 percent.

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Kelly, Melissa. "Why Become an Assistant Principal in a Middle or High School?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-an-assistant-principal-7652. Kelly, Melissa. (2020, August 28). Why Become an Assistant Principal in a Middle or High School? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-assistant-principal-7652 Kelly, Melissa. "Why Become an Assistant Principal in a Middle or High School?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-assistant-principal-7652 (accessed March 24, 2023).