The term “principal” is routinely used in public schools to refer to the highest administrator role within the school. Principals of public elementary, middle and high schools perform essential job duties to manage the operations and activities of the school. These duties are just as important in private school settings, but parents, children and prospective school personnel often wonder if private schools have a different title for their principals.

Principal Terminology

The commonly used title “principal” is actually a shortened version of the older term “principal teacher.” Today, principals are usually completely separate job roles from teachers. They often have totally different job functions as well as different pay schedules and work schedules. The dropping of the word “teacher” from the original job title reflects this distinction.

Principal is still an accepted term to use at a private school as it is at a public school. However, private schools sometimes use other titles to refer to their principals. Longstanding institutions like The Packer Collegiate Institute sometimes use titles such as headmaster, headmistress or the gender-neutral “Head of School” to identify the top management role in the institution. Director or, more formally, “Academy Director” is another job title you may encounter pertaining to private school programs, according to The Houston Chronicle.

Public school principals far outnumber private school principals. Of the 275,400 school principal roles in America, 77 percent are part of public school systems, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Differences Between Public and Private School Principals

Regardless of what title they go by, private school principals must meet many of the same challenges as their counterparts in public schools. For example, at both public and private schools, principals have to answer for the quality of their students’ academic performance. Although they aren’t in the classrooms teaching themselves, principals hire, train and evaluate the performance of teachers. They often work with curriculum specialists and others in some capacity to carry out programs and initiatives to improve student learning outcomes. The daily tasks of a principal, regardless of whether serving at a public or private school, revolve primarily around managing the school’s operations.

However, principals at private schools also have certain job duties that public school principles do not have, mainly due to differences in how private and public schools operate. Because they are not tax-funded like public schools, private schools rely on external funding. Some of that funding, of course, comes from the tuition charged to the families of pupils. However, even among private schools with expensive tuition costs, the revenue that comes from tuition does not always cover all of the institutions’ operating costs. To remain competitive and attract new students, these schools are also looking to grow – not necessarily in the size of the student body so much as in the quality of education and experience they offer students. Often, that means that principals or heads of the school, as well as other administrators, must devote a good portion of their time to fundraising.

Principals also have a hand in another aspect of private-school education that doesn’t exist in traditional public schools: admissions. Separate administrative professionals with job titles like Admissions Director or Admissions Coordinator might be primarily responsible for the day-to-day tasks of reviewing applications and determining which students to accept. However, as the leaders of the school, principals or headmasters are involved with determining the criteria a school bases its admissions decisions on, including minimum grades and eligibility requirements. Private school principals also supervise and manage admissions personnel.

Overall, private school employees earn less than their public-school counterparts. To what degree this trend holds true for education leadership roles depends on the institution. As a whole, private school principals earn less than public school principals. Although the BLS reports an overall median wage of $95,310 for the occupation, public school principals earn a $96,760 median wage, while private school principals make a median salary of $84,990. However, at some of the most exclusive private schools in the United States, directors and headmasters can command lucrative salaries, with total compensation packages rising as high as $1 million for a single year.

The 34,576 private institutions at the preschool through twelfth-grade levels represent one-quarter of America’s schools but enroll just 10 percent of the nation’s students – 5.7 students in total, according to the Council for American Private Education.

Additional Resources

What Qualities Do I Need to Have in Order to Be a Successful Elementary School Principal?

What Are the Best Degrees to Be a School Principal?

Is It Useful to Have Your MBA If You Want to Get Into an Administrative Position?