What is a School Superintendent?

The position is one of administrator and manager within a public school district. All the school principals within that district report to the superintendent. The School Board of Directors selects the superintendent, typically. Once hired, the Board presents the superintendent with a contract outlining the terms of his/her employment. It addresses conditions such as salary, bonus, vacation days, length of the agreement, professional development expectations, sick leave, benefits (medical, dental, etc.), and medical examination requirements.

Some school districts have lucrative contracts. For example, in March 2019, New Denver Superintendent’s new contract with the Denver school board states an annual wage of $260,000. This school district has 93,000 public school students – the largest in Colorado. Another school superintendent for the Aurora district in Colorado has a salary of $243,317 with a 5% bonus. The bonus is an incentive to improve the district’s student performance ratings within the state.

The school board chooses the superintendent in the majority of districts. At the state board of education level, there are states whose process involves election.

Education Requirements

A master’s degree is the minimum you require. The larger the school district in terms of the student population, the higher the preferred degree. In other words, the job demands a doctorate. In addition to your degree, experience is paramount. Most superintendents have progressed from teacher to principal to assistant or deputy superintendent. The journey affords many opportunities to hone leadership and people skills.

A Master in Education Administration or Leadership is worth considering. For working professionals, there are numerous online programs. Indiana University, for example, offers an online Master of Science in Education with a concentration in Educational Leadership. Their curriculum benefits future principals and administrators at all levels of education. Depending on the coursework, you may study instructional leadership, school law and policy, teacher leadership development, finance, administrative theory, and staff evaluation.

Teachers in most K-12th-grade system who teach specialized classes, such as special education, require a master’s degree. Continuing education makes it obligatory for teachers in individual states to work towards a graduate degree. As of 2010, Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts require teachers to complete a master’s within five years of signing their first contract.

However, in most states, a bachelor’s degree, along with the state’s teacher certification is adequate. Particularly in states whose demand exceeds supply. Arizona, Indiana, Washington State, and Washington, D.C. all have a shortage of teaching staff.

revised data

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report.

One way to gain an understanding of the educational demands of a school superintendent is to review online employment websites. Current postings the position provides insight into the necessity to have a doctoral degree. Here are some examples of job postings at respected online sites.

  • Safford Unified School District in Arizona consists of six schools. This rural community seeks a superintendent with a master’s degree and a current certificate.
  • Assistant Superintendent for Pittsburgh Schools requires a Master’s degree in Education Leadership as well as three years of experience as a school administrator.
  • North Lamar ISD in Texas has an opening for a superintendent with a Master’s degree from an accredited college.
  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina school district is taking applications from those with a Master’s degree in a field related to education. The preferred degree is a Doctorate in School Administration or related field for this Deputy Superintendent’s job.
  • William Penn School District in Pennsylvania posts that their Superintendent’s preferred degree is a doctorate.

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents comprises 17 regions or districts. “Dr.” precedes nine of the 17 listed names. We assume this means that these nine professionals have PhDs.

Bottom Line

You may avoid the time and expense of a doctorate – it depends on several factors. A metropolis with a large school district may require a Ph.D. A rural area may not place as dear an emphasis on a terminal degree. Additionally, a master’s degree combined with high marks for your teaching skills and accomplishments as a principal is equally essential. To enhance your qualifications, gain as much leadership exposure as possible. Become involved in civic and community events in a management capacity. These activities, coupled with a master’s degree, will hold you in good stead for a superintendent’s job.

Additional Resources:

What are the differences between a certificate and a Master’s Degree in Child Development?

Does becoming a Middle School principal have different requirements from a High School principal? 

What does a school superintendent do? 

What is No Child Left Behind?

I hear students are more likely to cheat in their online Master’s courses. Is that true?

What is the Difference between a Degree in Psychology and Psychological Science?

What is a postdoctoral research position in the field of psychology?

Do I need a Ph.D. to be a school Principal?