Education Administration

Running the Show: How to Become a Principal in Massachusetts

Running the Show: How to Become a Principal in Massachusetts
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Noodle Staff July 10, 2018

If you think you’re ready to run the show, Noodle’s guide to become a principal in Massachusetts will tell you what you need to do to get there.

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Have you ever thought, “If I ran the school, everything would be so much better.” Now’s the time to make that a reality. Administrators set the tone for a whole school or school district. Their job is to make sure that parents and teachers work together so that children can have the best education possible. If you think you’re ready to run the show, learn how to become a principal in Massachusetts with this guide from Noodle.

How to become a principal in Massachusetts: An overview

The first step to become a principal in Massachusetts is to earn a license from the state. Massachusetts needs teachers and administrators, so they created multiple pathways, such as apprenticeships, that lead to receiving a license. This system can seem complicated, however, because there are so many routes to licensure and so many different kinds of licenses. Here’s a brief breakdown:


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Types of administrator licenses

To become a principal in Massachusetts, you need to have an administrator’s license. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education lists four types of licenses and their general requirements. We’ll get into more details, with action steps, further into the article:

A temporary license is for an administrator in another state who wants to become a principal in Massachusetts.

General requirements:

  • Be an out-of-state administrator
  • Have been employed for at least three years with a license or certificate that is comparable to the initial license from Massachusetts.
  • Have not passed in entirety, or failed any portion of, the Communication and Literacy Skills Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL)

A temporary license is valid for one year, and it cannot be renewed.

Provisional license

The provisional license applies only to superintendents or assistant superintendents.

General requirements:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree
  • Have passed Communication and Literacy Skills MTEL

The provisional license is valid for five years and it cannot be extended. As of July 1st, 2019, an educator with one or more licenses can only work under these licenses for a total of five years.

Initial license

The initial license is the first license for an administrator. When the administrator wants to get a renewal, he would apply for a professional license.

General Requirements includes passing the Communication and Literacy Skills MTEL and completing one of the following:

Principals or assistant principals only must complete:

The initial license is valid for five years and it cannot be extended.

Professional license

The professional license is the only renewable license, and an administrator applies to receive it after receiving an initial license before the initial license period ends.

Massachusetts education statistics

Before we get into the details about each path to licensure, let’s take a look at stats for Massachusetts school districts, teachers, and administrators for the 2017 – 2018 school year from the Massachusetts Department of Education:

Massachusetts school districts

  • There are 406 operating school districts, 80 charter schools, and 2 virtual schools.
  • In those districts there are 1,113 elementary schools, 330 junior high or middle schools, and 404 secondary schools.
  • Total enrollment in Massachusetts school districts is 954,034 students.

Teachers and administrators in Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts employs 73,419.75 teachers, in full-time equivalent units. That means that part-time teachers count as a fraction of one teacher.
  • The United States Department of Labor reports that Massachusetts employs 7,210 educational administrators.
  • 97.2 percent of teachers are licensed by the state.
  • The student-to-teacher ratio for the state is 13 to 1.
  • The average teacher salary in 2016 was $76,442.
  • The Massachusetts’s labor statistics report shows that administrators earned an average salary of $107,670 in 2017.

Massachusetts needs administrators

On May 17th, 2017, Boston’s public radio station, WBUR, reported that the shortage for administrators, specifically superintendents, had hit critical levels. The average tenure for a superintendent has dropped from just under 15 years in 1940 to an average of three years in 2014.

Schools in Massachusetts are having a hard time finding principals, too. The fact that they have apprenticeship and internship models for licensing administrators shows that there aren’t enough people with traditional degrees in education to fill the roles. Now is the time to become a principal in Massachusetts, because it is a job hunter’s market.

How to become a principal in Massachusetts

While the requirements for licensure are universal, there are several different routes to becoming a principal in Massachusetts. These paths depend on your qualifications when you begin the process. We’ve organized the checklists below so you can easily find the steps you’d need based on your qualifications. If you want to look up these steps yourself, Massachusetts has created this handy licensure tool as a guide.

General Massachusetts principal requirements

As we mentioned, there are a few requirements that everyone must meet to become a principal in Massachusetts. No matter your background, every applicant needs:

You can upload all your documents for an application through the License and Renewal website rather than mailing them to state offices.

You have a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, a degree in another field, or have a current teaching license

There are three paths to receiving an administration license, and they apply to everyone whether you have a degree in education, a teaching license, or a bachelor’s degree in another field. This document describes the three pathways in detail. You can complete any one of these steps to receive an initial license:

Panel review

To qualify for a panel review, you need to have completed a post-baccalaureate degree in management/administration or have three years experience in an executive or management role. The first step in applying for a panel review is to compile your portfolio.

Your portfolio should include:

  • An updated resume.
  • All relevant transcripts.
  • Verification of licensure in the required areas.
  • Letters of recommendation, support, and employment verification from employer.
  • A written statement addressing your knowledge of and skills for applying the Massachusetts Professional Standards and Indicators for Administrative Leadership.

After submitting your request, the Office of Educator Licensure will determine whether you are eligible for a panel review. After you have been approved, the review panel will interview you to see whether your experience and training qualify you to have an administration license. The panel can give one of three rulings:

  • That you will be licensed
  • That you will be licensed only after meeting certain conditions
  • That you cannot be licensed at this time via the Panel Review, and should pursue licensure via an approved program or the apprenticeship/internship route

Administrative internship or apprentice program

The internship or apprentice program is a comprehensive field-experience program to train administrators for a license without using a traditional degree program. Participants in this program work as acting administrators at a school. A supervisor, working in the same role as the apprentice, guides the apprentice in this position for the set number of hours — 500 for principals and superintendents.

Once you have completed your apprenticeship, you will need to submit two forms, found on pages 16 through 18 of this document to the department of education:

  • Verification/Endorsement Form for Administrator Licensure
  • Performance Assessment for Initial Licensure Verification Form

The licensure office requires the school district to help you complete the forms and compile any documentation that the forms require. The licensure offices will then review the application and make a ruling based on it.

Post-baccalaureate degree with a supervised practicum

You can find a list of approved programs at the Massachusetts department of education website. Preparing for an adminstrator license is a great time to work on your administration master’s degree. If you want to become a principal in Boston, here are some great examples of programs you could try:

Once you have completed the program, the program supervisor will endorse you in the ELAR system.

You are already a principal in another state outside Massachusetts

If you’re already a principal or other administrator in another state, it will be fairly simple for you to obtain a license for Massachusetts. For many, the first step is to get a temporary license before transitioning into an initial license. To get a temporary license, you should:

  • Create an account on the ELAR website to submit the necessary documents.
  • Submit a copy of a valid administration license from your state that is comparable to the field and grade levels of the license you are seeking.
  • Refrain from taking the Communication and Literacy Skills MTEL. If you have passed this test in its entirety, or have failed any portion of it, you are ineligible for a temporary license.

Here are the steps you need to take to get an initial license. Not that if you have enough time to complete this application process, it may be better to skip the temporary license altogether:

  • Create an account on the ELAR ( website to submit the necessary documents.
  • Pass the Performance Assessment for Leaders for Initial License (MA-PAL). Your results are automatically applied to your ELAR account.
  • Pass the Communication and Literacy Skills MTEL test.
  • Submit proof of at least three years of employment as a teacher, supervisor, or administrator at a school using this form, or supply a letter, on official letterhead, from the school at which you were previously employed that documents your employment.

You have an initial license and want a professional license

An initial license is not renewable, and only lasts five years. If you want to work as a principal for more than five years, you’ll need to upgrade your initial license to a professional license. To do that, you need to meet three qualifications:

  • Have an initial administration license
  • Complete a single-year induction and mentoring program
  • Have three years work experience as a principal or assistant principal under this license

To show that you have completed the induction and mentoring program, you need to submit a School Based Employment Verification/Induction and Mentoring form, or send a letter on official letterhead verifying that you completed the program. The same applies for demonstrating your work experience. You may use a form or send a letter on official letterhead.

Assessments to become a principal in Massachusetts

To receive licensure as an administrator, you need to pass some tests; these are the MTEL and the MA-PEL.

Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL)
The MTEL is both a general education test and a subject specific test. Which parts of the test you will take deped on the licenses you are seeking. Those seeking administrator licenses do not have a specific content area focus. You can go to the MTEL prep page to find testing dates, preparation materials, and other information.

Massachusetts Performance Assessment for Leaders (MA-PAL)
This test evaluates a candidate’s ability to lead based on the Professional Standards for Administrative Leadership. You can find a list of the standards in this document in appendix A, beginning on page 12. You can register online for for MA-PAL as well as find more information about the assessment. The assessment includes four tasks.

Task 1: Leadership through vision for high school achievement
Develop a school vision and improvement plan for the school at which you work. The process includes collecting qualitative and quantitative data on the culture of the school and relationships between the students and teachers, among other things. Next you would produce a plan with goals and strategies to accomplish your plan.

Task 2: Instructional leadership for a professional learning culture. This task requires working with a group of teachers to show how you would develop a culture of professional development so the teachers can provide a better learning experience for the students.

Task 3: Leadership in observing, assessing, and supporting individual teacher effectiveness. This task requires observing teachers, collecting data, and analyzing that data to provide feedback for teacher performance. You provide a plan for further feedback and support for the teacher. A major part of a principal’s job is observing and assessing teacher effectiveness, and this task assesses that skill.

Task 4: Leadership for family engagement and community involvement. Principals don’t just work with teachers and students. They also need to engage family and community to support the school. This task involves developing a proposal and implementing a portion of it to improve community engagement in education. You would work with a community group made of staff, teachers, families, and community members.

Sheltered English Immersion endorsements (SEI)

SEI endorsement isn’t really an assessment, but you have to have it before you can become a principal in Massachusetts. There are two SEI endorsements, one for teachers and one for administrators. To qualify for the teacher SEI endorsement, you need to go one of the following routes:

  • Take an SEI endorsement course.
  • Complete an approved educator preparation program.
  • Take and pass the SEI MTEL assessment.
  • Have an ESL/ELL license in Massachusetts.
  • Have a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree in an approved major.

To receive the SEI endorsement for administration, you can go one of two ways:

  • Have a teacher SEI endorsement.
  • Complete an approved course designed for administrators and SEI.

A career in education has some challenges. It can be hard work. But any obstacles are far outweighed by the rewards you will receive from helping children learn. There are few things as wonderful as watching a child have that “Aha!” moment when something finally clicks, or seeing teachers and students work together alongside their community. This is a regular part of life for a principal who is guiding a school to success.

The state of Massachusetts is experiencing an administrator shortage, both for principals and for superintendents. If you have been waiting for the right time to pursue your dream of being a principal, that time is now. Schools need administrators more than ever, and Massachusetts has used their multiple routes to licensure to make it easier for you to get your license and become a principal. It’s time for you to get started.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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