Under the American public education system, schools are organized into administrative units called districts. States can have as few as one district (Hawaii) or as many as 1,227 (Texas), and those districts can range in student population from under 300 (there's one in Wyoming with 105 students) to over one million (Brooklyn, NY). No matter the size or location, someone has to supervise them. That someone is the school superintendent.
A school superintendent is sometimes referred to as "the CEO of a school district." Like CEOs, they certainly are the public face of a school district, and they exert considerable control over budgets, hiring, facilities, and policy. They supervise principals—vice-presidents in this analogy—to ensure their vision is implemented across the district. And, like CEOs, superintendents are usually paid very well.
How well? This article answers the question how much do superintendents make? It covers:
A school superintendent has two primary responsibilities. First, they must ensure that each school in their district is operating smoothly and effectively. Second, they represent the district to all its constituents: students, teachers, principals, staff, parents, and other district residents.
Because school districts vary so widely in size and budget, a superintendent's responsibilities and powers differ considerably from one district to another. They do share many in common, however. The AASA lists these eight standards for assessing superintendent performance:
Each year, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) produces its Superintendent Salary and Benefits Study. According to AASA, survey respondents oversee school districts that are "generally representative of the distribution of school districts nationwide," meaning that the survey data, while "not necessarily representative of all superintendents," does provide a reasonably accurate snapshot. Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data specifically for school superintendents, the AASA report is the most accurate data set available.
According to the study, median base salaries for school superintendents—disaggregated by school district size—range from approximately $95,000 to $260,000 annually. The smallest school districts captured in the survey had fewer than 300 students; the largest, more than 25,000.
School superintendents' median base salaries, by school district size and by gender of superintendent, are:
The report indicates that the majority of school superintendents receive generous benefits packages that include:
The report also lists median base salaries for assistant or associate superintendents, a position many superintendents hold prior to ascending to the top spot:
The AASA includes other telling demographic details about school superintendents. The male-female ratio in the profession, for example, is four-to-one. We've listed some other interesting data below:
Economic condition of district
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track income information specifically for school superintendents. However, it does gather data on all education administrators, a category that includes school superintendents.
Geography has a significant impact on superintendent compensation; the more affluent a district, the higher a superintendent's income is likely to be. According to the BLS, the five highest-paying states for education administrators are:
The lowest-paying states, according to the BLS, are West Virginia and North Carolina (pay is lower still in Puerto Rico, a US territory).
The best-paying metropolitan areas include:
Other factors that can impact compensation include:
There are over 10,000 school districts in the United States, each with its own hiring standards. While there is no single education standard for superintendents, few if any districts will consider a candidate who does not hold at least a master's degree, preferably in education or education management. Many job postings indicate that a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree is either preferred or required.
Pursuing an EdD can be challenging for a working professional. Fortunately, a number of top schools offer this degree online, making it easier to complete part-time and from the convenience of your own home. Schools that deliver an online EdD include:
Certification from the AASA will also boost your resume. Its National Superintendent Certification Program, designed for superintendents with fewer than seven years experience in the job, costs $6,000. The program consists of four three-day sessions spread over 18 months (and, typically, three or four cities) and includes case studies, mentoring sessions, and a capstone project.
No one scrolls through a job board, sees a posting for a school superintendent, and says to themselves, "I'll bet I could do that! I mean, how hard could it be?" Well, maybe someone does, but no one with a realistic grasp of what the job requires. This is a job one builds one's career to pursue. You may start as a teacher or as a school administrator. Either way, you should put in some time in a school's front office, because supervising principals is among a superintendent's most critical responsibilities.
Depending on the size of your district, you may also want to put in some time at the district level. In a small school district—the one in Wyoming that we mentioned at the beginning of the article, for example—jumping from school principal to superintendent is quite likely. In a larger district, however, that's just not going to happen. You'll need to pay your dues at the district level, perhaps in the role of assistant or associate superintendent.
At that point, you should have a very clear idea of whether you want the responsibility and attention that come with this high-profile role, or whether you'd rather hang a little further in the background. If you're all about taking charge and standing front-and-center, then yes: you should become a superintendent. Good luck finding a district to lead!
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