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High School Principal

This article discusses what a high school is and what a high school principal does. The article gives details on what training is needed to become a high school principal and what the responsibilities of a high school principal are.

A high school principal is the head administrator at which the lowest grade is a grade between 7 and 12, and the highest grade is 12. That is, the school may include the following grade-level configurations:

7 - 12                7 - 11                8 - 12                9 - 12                10 - 12              11 - 12              12

This article looks into the high school principal’s job.

High Schools

Since the school level creates the context of the high school principal’s job, let’s take a look at some of the crucial elements of a high school. High school is usually the last three to four years of K - 12 schooling program, but some buildings have students combine middle and high schools. In either case, some of the youngest students on the campus may still be going through the changes of puberty, while others are very adult, both physically and in terms of personal maturity. Many high school students earn driving licenses and some take place in the democratic process for the first time, casting their votes for the candidates of their choice.

Although in some states, school attendance is compulsory through age 18, there are 29 states that require schooling only until age 16. As a result, high school is a level at which students may legally decide to drop out, rather than complete their secondary education. This contrasts with students who may be loading their schedules with Advanced Placement courses, or actually leaving the high school to take courses at a local university or college in a field in which they are particularly gifted.

Athletics are often an important part of the high school experience, as are other extracurricular activities. For many students, high school is the first time when they not only have requirements for graduation, but also a good deal of freedom in choosing elective courses as well as different versions of a required course. Thus, in high school, education can become more personalized.

High school is a time during which most students avidly look ahead to their next steps after graduation. Whether they are planning to work, join the military, begin or continue training in a career (and) technical education (CTE) field, attend a college or university, or volunteer with an organization such as the Peace Corps, it is a time in which students assess themselves, undergo a variety of standardized assessments, and need to present themselves for acceptance into whatever future they have chosen for themselves.

Training to be a High School Principal

High school principals generally must have at least a Master’s Degree, teaching experience, and have worked in lesser administrative roles, such as assistant principal or similar role. Because high schools can be more differentiated in their focus than, say, most elementary schools are, an applicant for a principal’s position may be asked to present evidence of more specialized knowledge or skills in one or more particular areas that fit a particular high school’s mission and focus.

Responsibilities of a High School Principal

Like other school administrators, a high school principals responsibilities depend on the team of administrators at the particular high school. When duties are shared with one or more assistant principal’s, the work load will naturally be spread out. How closely the principal works along with the school board and district administrators varies with the circumstances. High school principals may have more or less autonomy.

  • School Vision   Although the high school principal provides the vision and leadership to guide the high school, a new principal will be well aware of the tradition and expectations in place upon his or her arrival. A high school, more than a middle school or elementary school, is generally embedded into community life, with community members other than parents cheering on its sports teams, attending plays, musicals, and other performances, and supporting efforts like Scholar’s Bowl or other competitions and activities. Thus, the principal  must find a way to honor tradition, even while setting the research-based goals and aims that will shape the future.
  • School as Business The management of a high school can present challenges beyond that of elementary and secondary schools. Many high schools have feeder schools and a larger student population, hence a larger faculty, staff, building, and physical plant. This leads to a larger budget, and more to manage. In addition, high school facilities may be in more demand for use by outside groups for adult education, recreation, and civic activities, such as voting. The business management, finances, and scheduling, along with keeping the grounds and building safe and in good repair while preparing for future demands, is a large element of the high school principal’s job.
  • Staff  Hiring, supervising, and evaluating teachers and other staff is part of the high school principal’s job, as well as maintaining records and accountability. The principal also oversees and encourages professional development, and offers guidance, encouragement, support, and assistance in the areas of curriculum and instruction. The principal creates an efficient and welcoming workplace in which staff can focus and perform their jobs well.
  • Students  The high school principal sets the tone for school expectations and communicates the school culture to all. The principal is responsible for every facet of the students’ education, from the curriculum, to discipline, to making sure they are supervised during study hall. By celebrating student achievements, not only in the classroom, but also in extracurricular activities, competitions, and their post-graduation choices, the principal helps foster a school atmosphere in which accomplishment is pursued and prized.
  • Assessment  The principal of the high school is responsible for assessment that falls under the aegis of special education for identifying students with special needs, as well as local, state, and federal assessment requirements. The latter includes the testing required for No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the record-keeping and communication of assessment results to students and families. Different from schools for younger students, the high school principal may also have to schedule college entrance exams and Advanced Placement exams in the school building and liaison with the College Board and ACT to organize this.
  • Parents and Community  The high school principal is the face of the school to those outside, both parents of students and the broader community. As such, the principal is responsible for fostering and maintaining good relationships and addressing any issues that arise. Involving parents in the school is also important. The school principal may be called upon to make decisions about making school facilities available for community activities, such as adult education, continuing education, offerings by local parks and recreation departments, etc.
  • Supervisor/Boss  The high school principal must write reports and keep the school board and/or district office - whomever he or she answers to - informed about all important matters related to the school’s educational mission. Contact with feeder schools is also important, as is awareness of post-graduation possibilities for students.


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 - First Look -

Vermont Department of Education: Principal Endorsement -

InfoPlease: State Compulsory School Attendance Laws -