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Elementary School Principal

This article will help define the role of an elementary school principal, inform you about the training and education an elementary school principal needs, and information on the responsibilities of an elementary school principal.

An elementary school principal takes responsibility for administering what is known as a primary school. A primary school may have a lowest grade of any year from pre-kindergarten to grade 3 and a highest grade up to grade 8.

You can see from this that an elementary school teach could be dealing with a student population as young as ages 3 to 4 or 5 - the ages for pre-kindergarten, depending on the state - and children as old as age 13 or so. Learn more about the work of an elementary school principal in this article.

Elementary Schools

Since the setting for his or her work is part of an elementary school principal’s title, let’s look at it more closely. Elementary schools are often the first schools that children attend. Even if the child has been in daycare, the transition to school is still a change, and this is even more true if the child has been primarily or entirely at home prior to the start of schools. There are many things to learn about the way that school works, how to be a member of a class as opposed to just a member of a family, and how to get through a day that is filled with what may be quite unfamiliar tasks.

The elementary school may have a before school program, an after school program, or both. Students may primarily walk or get rides to school, or may have to be guided to and from school buses. Students may have classes in one or more buildings, with which they have to become familiar.

Depending on the district, if a possible, and inevitably if a private school, students may find themselves surrounded by unfamiliar faces. They are part of an organization that is largely new to them, and the principal is the head of the organization. Though children may not see the elementary school principal on a daily basis, it is the principal who has overseen the transition process - often meeting with families of incoming students and cohorts - and who will lead and support those who more directly guide the student’s educational experience.

Training to be an Elementary School Principal

Elementary school principals generally must have at least a Master’s Degree and at least three years of teaching experience.

Responsibilities of an Elementary School Principal

As with any school administrator, the responsibilities of an elementary school principal depend a great deal on the administrative team. Whether or not there is an assistant principal in the building is one crucial factor in determining the elementary school principal’s scope of work.

Other factors that may shape the job are the role(s) taken by the school board, and district level administrators, such as a Superintendent, Director of Elementary Education, Curriculum Coordinator, or other administrators. Putting that aside, here is a short list of an elementary school principal’s responsibilities:

  • School Vision   The principal of an elementary school is the one whose leadership and vision guide the school’s direction as it develops learning and teaching goals and curriculum. This includes turning a critical eye on the existing approaches and focuses, as well as having an understanding of developing trends in education and current research on educational matters.
  • School as Business The elementary school principal may be responsible for the business aspects of the school: the budget, finances, fund-raising, and other aspects of the business and financial management of the school.
  • Staff  The elementary school principal may be responsible for hiring qualified staff and disciplining or firing staff, should that be necessary. Other areas of responsibility include staff development, staff evaluation, and guiding the staff in matters of curriculum, instruction, and school law. Staff includes not only classroom teachers, but also para-educators, librarians, guidance personnel, school nurse and psychologist, custodians, cafeteria staff, secretarial staff, as well as any other staff in the school.
  • Students  The elementary school principal is responsible for the safety and conduciveness of the learning environment, as well as the combination of knowledge and skills that students are introduced to.
  • Assessment  The principal is responsible for all facets of assessment, from the identification of students with special needs to the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In order to carry this out, the principal must be up-to-date on Special Education and other Education law. Any other assessments mandated by the state or district are also the principal’s responsibility.
  •  Parents and Community  The principal of the elementary school is the chief liaison between the school and the outside world, both parents and the larger community. In this role, the principal teams with the parents to provide the best educational outcomes for their children, as well as responding to any parent problems or complaints. The principal encourages close relationships with the community, but also creates a safe environment in the school, keeping children in his or her care safe from untoward community influences that might impinge into the school environment.
  • Supervisor/Boss  The elementary school principal may answer to a variety of people at the district level and/or a school board. It is her or his responsibility to keep them apprised of the school situation, student progress, and notable achievements, failure, and changes of direction. The principal will also likely be in touch with feeder schools, if any, as well as the principal and staff of the school to which students will go after graduating from the elementary school.


National Center for Education Statistics: The Condition of Education: Glossary -

National Center for Education Statistics: Numbers and Types of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2006-07 -

Vermont Department of Education: Principal Endorsement - Informational Interviews: Elementary Principal -