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Path to Becoming a School District Administrator

A male school administrator meets with three teachers in his office.

School district leaders have a powerful influence on teaching and learning. Whether they work as principals or district administrators, their impact can reverberate through the lives of teachers and students, as well as other administrators. They play a key role in setting the course for the direction of a school or district, and their choices can determine whether educational environments are conducive to teaching best practices or mired in ineffective methods, leaving school community members feeling intrinsically motivated or worn down and defeated. They can also foster school cultures that encourage collaboration and support teachers in their professional development while nurturing students and improving academic performance. In the current era of school reform, school district administrators play an important role in forming effective organizational structures that allow administrators, teachers, and students to succeed.

Educators inspired by the opportunity to lead the charge in building flourishing school communities may want to consider becoming a school district administrator. American University’s Online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Education Policy and Leadership equips experienced educators with the knowledge of education policy and system improvement needed to serve in senior-level administration positions.

What Is a School District Administrator?

School district administrators can work for schools or districts. Those working in districts include superintendents and administrators, who might manage finances, assessment, or other specialty areas, while principals and assistant principals serve in schools. These administrative leaders work alongside school boards to develop and implement district and school policies and programs. Policies can address almost every topic relevant to schools, targeting issues about school health and safety, teacher accountability and instruction, student discipline, and special education. New policies require procedures to implement them and tools to evaluate their success.

School district administrators are also responsible for financial aspects of education. They must maintain budgets and determine how to allocate funds. School budgets can shift with the health of the economy, so school district administrators have to make difficult decisions about scaling back programs to accommodate budget cuts while having the least impact on the quality of education delivered. Another responsibility is overseeing instructional leadership. Administrators set instructional goals aligned with instructional needs and manage the curriculum, ensuring it adheres to district, state, and national requirements. This involves selecting a curriculum that helps students develop the competencies and skills the district has mandated.

Path to Becoming a School District Administrator

School district administrators are upper-level management positions. As such, educators interested in becoming school district administrators must receive the right education and gain substantial experience.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step toward a career as a school district administrator is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most choose a program in education or a specific educational field.

Step Two: Earn a Teaching Certificate<

School district administrators often begin their careers as teachers. States require public educators to acquire a single-subject or multiple-subject credential to teach. This entails completing a teaching preparation program, including student teaching, and passing a state exam.

Step Three: Gain Teaching Experience

Working as teachers gives future administrators an understanding of how policies related to instruction, assessment, and curriculum play out in the classroom. To lead teachers and schools and make decisions that impact the daily lives of teachers and students, administrators should have more than theoretical knowledge. Teaching experience provides administrators with insight into the pitfalls and unexpected twists that can accompany well-intended ideas, which can help them avoid unnecessary mistakes or errors in judgment about what may or may not work.

Step Four: Earn an Advanced Degree

Graduate degrees strengthen educators’ theoretical and practical knowledge and deepen their understanding of education policy and research. While a doctorate is seldom required to become a school district administrator, PhD programs equip graduates with skills in strategic budgeting, program evaluation, and talent management, among other vital competencies that will help them succeed at the highest levels.

Step Five: Earn a Public School Administrator’s License

School district administrators must earn a public school administrator’s license. To do so, they must hold at least a master’s degree and pass a certifying exam, which varies from state to state.

School District Administrator Skills and Salary

School district administrators’ diverse responsibilities require various skills. Beginning a career as a teacher, which necessitates developing relationships with students, parents, and other educators on a daily basis, helps administrators develop strong interpersonal skills. Much of the work they carry out, from collaborating with school boards to supporting staff, faculty, and other administrators, requires excellent interpersonal skills.

School district administrators should also be detail-oriented and organized to manage curricula, coordinate with an array of educators working toward common goals, and remain accountable for the delivery of quality instruction. As leaders, they must also know how to motivate their teams to undertake challenges, buy into a vision, and accept inevitable changes. Finally, these administrators need budgeting skills to manage funding, handle cuts, and allocate resources appropriately.

While salaries vary according to location, school district administrators made a median annual salary of about $95,310 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Learn More About Earning a Doctorate in Education

Taking on the challenges a school district administrator faces requires advanced expertise in organizational leadership, conscious leadership, and education policy. Explore how the Online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership at American University empowers educators to create equitable and thriving learning environments.

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