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How to Become a School District Administrator

April 14, 2020

School district leaders have a powerful influence on teaching and learning. Whether they work as principals or district administrators, they can impact the lives of teachers and students, as well as other administrators.

School district administrators 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. 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, administrators play an important role in forming effective organizational structures that allow fellow administrators, teachers, and students to succeed.

Educators inspired by the opportunity to lead the charge in building flourishing school communities would do well to consider becoming school district administrators. American University’s online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Education Policy and Leadership can equip 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 the administrators who typically manage finances, assessments, or other specialty areas. Principals and assistant principals serve in schools. These administrative leaders work alongside school boards to develop and implement district and school policies and programs.

Educational policies address almost every topic relevant to schools, targeting issues concerning 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. Administrators are also responsible for the financial aspects of education. They maintain budgets and determine how to allocate funds. School budgets can shift with the health of the economy, so school district administrators may have to make difficult decisions about scaling back programs to accommodate budget cuts while minimizing the impact on education quality.

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.

What Does a School District Administrator Do?

Some of the most common school administration duties include:

  • Developing class schedules
  • Providing teachers with professional development opportunities
  • Recruiting and hiring new staff and faculty members
  • Monitoring testing data to ensure the success of students
  • Confirming that curriculum standards are met
  • Managing the budget for the school or district
  • Maintaining secure and safe environments for teachers, staff, and students

Path to Becoming a School District Administrator

The school district administrator role is an upper-level management position. Educators interested in the role must gain the right education plus 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 people choose a program in education or a specific educational field.

Step Two: Earn a Teaching Certificate

High-level 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

Master’s degrees strengthen educators’ theoretical and practical knowledge and deepen their understanding of education policy and research. Some states require a master’s degree to become fully certified as a teacher. While a doctorate is seldom required to enter school district administration, doctoral programs can 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

The final step is to earn a public school administrator’s license. To do so, individuals must hold at least a master’s degree and pass a certifying exam, which varies from state to state.

School District Administrator Requirements

While the requirements for becoming an administrator vary by the school district, some districts require administrators to have a master’s in education or a comparable field. Some experience in the school system is generally preferred.

Additionally, for administrators who plan to spend some time in the classroom, having an up-to-date teaching certification is imperative. Some positions also require certification as an educational administrator.

School District Administrator Skills

School district administrators’ diverse responsibilities require certain skills. Beginning a career as a teacher, which necessitates developing relationships with students, parents, and other educators, 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.

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.

School Administration Salary Expectations

Education administrators had a median annual salary of $98,420 in May 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A number of factors can impact an administrator’s specific salary, including educational level and years of experience. Additionally, salary expectations vary by geographic location and by the school district, reflecting funding levels and budget priorities.

Learn More About Earning a Doctorate in Education

Taking on the challenges a school district administrator faces requires advanced expertise in organizational management, intentional leadership, and education policy. The online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership at American University can provide graduates with the skills to become effective educational leaders in four domains: Systems Change, Personal Leadership, Social Justice and Anti-Racism, and Policy and Research.

Explore how the online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership at American University empowers educators to create equitable and thriving learning environments.