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What Is a District Leader?

March 17, 2023

The most successful school districts hire strong, experienced leaders. District leadership makes a profound impact on students’ experiences and successes, and professionals working in this capacity play a crucial role in setting a district’s goals and performance expectations, forging policies, and developing staff, among other duties.

Professionals interested in pursuing district leader roles must start by developing the theoretical knowledge needed to effect change within the educational system. Completing an advanced degree, such as an EdD in Education Policy and Leadership, a Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership, or a Master of Arts in Teaching can equip graduates with the skills to change education for the better.

Why Strong District Leadership Is Important

The formula for student success extends beyond what’s taught in the classroom. District leaders, including superintendents and school principals, play an important role in student growth. For example, the educational leadership training organization New Leaders estimates that school leadership accounts for approximately 25 percent of that school’s impact on student achievement.

The organization also notes that leaders that support the development and learning of teachers — and take steps to address barriers to students’ success, such as bullying, lagging attendance, and inadequate resources — can help student achievement climb.

District Leader Career Paths

District leaders work in elementary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary school environments. The most common district leader career paths include the following:

School Superintendent

School superintendents are essentially the chief executive officers of a school system. In addition to overseeing long-term planning, managing fiscal operations, and managing school principals and various district staff, they also maintain relationships with state and local government agencies. 

Superintendents lead school districts of all sizes. In most cases, professionals working in this capacity work Monday through Friday, 40 hours per week. Traveling to attend meetings and conferences is also a typical part of the job. Data from Payscale notes that as of January 2023, the average base salary for school superintendents was $136,000. 

School Administrator

Sometimes referred to as school principals, school district administrators oversee high-level administrative tasks, such as managing budgets and events; coordinating administrative processes, such as scheduling, reporting, and record keeping; and ensuring the school remains compliant with state and federal regulations.

Professionals who choose this career path may also be tasked with hiring and supervising teachers, designing and overseeing educational curricula, and managing the day-to-day operations of their school. 

Similar to school superintendents, most professionals in this field work full-time, Monday through Friday, although travel to attend conferences and meetings may be required. Data from Payscale notes that as of February 2023, the average base salary for school administrators was $64,000. Principals, on the other hand, earn an average salary of $97,700 as of February 2023, according to Payscale. 

Assistant Principal

Assistant principals work with school principals and other members of central administration staff to help keep their schools or institutions running smoothly. This includes overseeing operational, managerial, and administrative tasks. These professionals may have focus areas, such as assessments, curricula, evaluations, or discipline.

Assistant principals are generally employed by their respective school districts and then assigned to a specific elementary, middle, or high school. Data from Payscale notes that as of March 2023, the average base salary for assistant principals is $75,100. 

Key Skills for District Leaders

Aspiring district leaders will be well-served by developing a variety of hard and soft skills. Examples include the following:

  • Communication skills: District leaders must be able to relay information clearly. They must be able to communicate effectively with a variety of stakeholders, including parents, district staff, and school board members, among others. 
  • Computer skills: Computer literacy is crucial in conducting research, writing proposals, and carrying out computer-based communication. Computer skills are a must-have for professionals in leadership positions.
  • Decision-making skills: Professionals working in this field must be able to evaluate the various outcomes that may be associated with their decisions. They assess options and choose the best path forward.
  • Leadership skills: Among the most important responsibilities of a district leader is to direct and shape the district’s resources, policies, and staff. Professionals with strong educational leadership skills are likely to be most successful.
  • Problem-solving skills: School districts face big challenges, such as managing class size, education funding, staffing shortages, and parental involvement, among others. Effective district leaders understand how to identify problems and develop solutions. 

Earn an Online Education Degree to Pursue Your Dream of Becoming a District Leader

Students interested in pursuing district leadership roles and/or careers in higher education can get off to a good start by developing the in-demand knowledge and skills they’ll need to be successful. Completing an advanced degree education can equip graduates with the skills to develop and create effective policies, facilitate exceptional learning experiences, and guide school districts and their students toward a brighter future.

Are you ready to take the next step in your path toward becoming a district leader? Discover how completing an online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership, an online Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership, or an online Master of Arts in Teaching from American University can prepare you to effect positive change in the educational landscape.