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How to Become a School Superintendent

Drexel University School of Education

A desire to have a greater impact on students can lead teachers to become principals and principals to become school superintendents. However, acquiring the training, education, and experience necessary to run an entire school district isn’t something you can do overnight.

What is a School Superintendent?

The superintendent of schools is the educational leader tasked with propelling learning forward and crafting innovative and creative solutions to the complex issues facing educators today. Often, the superintendent is the equivalent of a CEO of a business, managing hundreds of employees, balancing a multi-million dollar budget, and creating a collaborative vision aimed at preparing students to be critical thinkers ready to solve current and as yet unknown problems facing our global society.

What does a School Superintendent do? 

Superintendents are transformational leaders who facilitate change to meet the challenges facing education today. This position requires someone with a strong vision of what education should be, passionate about improving the delivery of instruction, and ready to create learning environments to prepare tomorrow’s global leaders. 

Responsibilities of a School Superintendent

The responsibilities of a school superintendent can vary from one school district to another, but typical responsibilities include:

  • Oversee academic achievement and standards
  • Manage the school district’s budget
  • Hire high level staff
  • Meet and provide updates to the school board

Understanding the various requirements and hurdles in this career path can help you start moving in the right direction. And if you’re ready to learn how to become a school superintendent, take a moment to Request Information about how Drexel can help.

What Skills do you Need to Become a School Superintendent

A superintendent oversees several important tasks including hiring staff, managing budgets, monitoring student success, and developing a vision for the district. Given such a challenging and multifaceted position, there are many school superintendent skills that are necessary to thrive.

As the educational requirements suggest, school superintendents will need to develop high-level abilities as managers. They’ll also need the ability to connect with students, versatile communication skills to interact with the community, and the leadership skills necessary to oversee an entire district.

What Degree do you need to Become a School Superintendent

A bachelor’s degree in education is the most common starting point for a superintendent. Because becoming a superintendent often begins with a career in teaching, and it almost always requires a graduate degree related to high-level administration. For example, an MS in Education Administration or an EdD in Educational Leadership and Management.

The career path to becoming a superintendent can be accomplished through the PhD in Education or EdD programs. The PhD focuses on advancing theory through critical analysis, while an EdD prepares you to apply the research in a real-world setting.

School Superintendent Certification Requirements

Certification requirements vary by state, but in general, superintendents are expected to have 2-5 years of experience in an administrative position before consideration. Programs that allow you to complete a School Superintendent Certification have similar requirements. Prospective superintendents usually need an active teaching license in the state where they work.

Because of the teaching license and administrative experience requirements, starting out as a principal is one of the most direct routes to becoming a school superintendent. Principals have their own certification and teaching experience requirements that largely overlap with the requirements to become a superintendent. But it is possible to develop the necessary administrative experience in other fields.

How Many Years Does It Take to Become a School Superintendent?

Not every superintendent follows the exact same career path. But in general, people who want to become a school superintendent need to:

  • Earn a Bachelor’s degree in education (4 years)
  • Gain teaching experience (2-3 years)
  • Earn a Master’s degree in education (2 years)
  • Gain experience in an administrative or supervisory role (3-5 years)

Between all of these requirements, it takes around 11-14 years to develop the experience necessary to become a school superintendent and run a school district.

How to Become a School Superintendent in 7 Steps

Gain Experience as a Teacher

A great way to gain an understanding of how schools and school systems operate is to serve as a teacher. Teachers implement the curriculum and learning standards established by the district and state and federal departments of education. They see first-hand the impact policies have on schools and can gain a good understanding of what works and what does not work.

Complete a Masters Degree

Specific requirements for becoming a school superintendent can vary from state to state, but typically, a student will need to complete a graduate level degree or coursework to be eligible for a superintendent position. Drexel’s MS in Education Administration trains educators to prepare for leadership positions within school systems. Students can add-on principal certification to their degree and graduate ready to take on a school leadership position.

Gain Experience in an Administrative Role

Serving in an administrative role in a school district can serve as a stepping stone to a career as a school superintendent. Administrators such as assistant superintendents and department directors gain experience working closely with the superintendent. Leaders in this role can see how policy and plans are developed and put into practice in schools.

Complete a Doctoral Degree

While not always required, a doctoral degree can help prospective superintendents stand out when applying to positions in larger and more competitive school districts. An education doctorate, like Drexel’s EdD in Educational Leadership and Management program offers superintendent letter of eligibility that students can pursue as part of their degree. Drexel also offers a stand-alone superintendent certificate program for students to complete the necessary coursework to become eligible for superintendent positions without having to complete the doctorate program.

Become Certified and Become Licensed in your State

Once an individual meets the academic requirements for superintendent eligibility, they can apply to their state’s department of education for a superintendent letter of eligibility or certificate. Depending on the state, the individual may need to pass an exam to obtain licensure.

Apply for Superintendent Roles

Most superintendents are appointed by a school board. School boards act as the hiring committee for positions in their districts. Once a superintendent is appointed, the school board will work closely with the superintendent in identifying goals and priorities for the district, much like how a CEO of a company works with their board of directors.

Lead a School District

Once hired, a School Superintendent can begin leading their districts. Superintendents create and implement plans to meet established goals for academic success, manage budgets, and hire important personnel such as principals and assistant superintendents.

Are School Superintendents in Demand?

According to Zippia, there are more than 30,000 active superintendent of schools job openings in the U.S. Additionally, superintendent jobs are projected to grow by 4% from 2018-2028.

How Much Does a School Superintendent Make?

School superintendents are typically well compensated for their work compared to principals and teachers in their district. According to Payscale, the average salary for school superintendents in the United States is $138,755.

Become a School Superintendent with Drexel University's School of Education

Individuals looking to become a school superintendent can start by pursuing a superintendent letter of eligibility through Drexel University’s School of Education. Students can enroll in the EdD in Educational Leadership and Management program and complete the coursework through the doctorate program. If a student already has a doctorate degree or does not wish to pursue a doctorate degree, they can obtain a superintendent letter of eligibility through Drexel’s Superintendent Certificate program.

Get started today by starting an application or contacting us to receive additional information.