John Quincy Adams once said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader." When you have an internal motivation to lead people toward greatness, it is hard to pursue anything else. If you want to be a leader in the California educational system and truly make a difference for kids and their families, becoming a principal is a great place to start. While there are many steps you must take to become a principal in the state of California, a career leading schools is within your reach. Read on to learn how to start on the path towards becoming a California principal.

A day in the life of a California principal

As a child, you probably weren’t sure what your principal did — other than speak at assemblies, pick up trash during lunch, and pester students about going back to class on time. You would never have known, but a principal has a lot on his or her plate. In fact, running a school is a lot like running a business.

Hiring. Principals recruit, interview, and hire teachers to fill vacancies in their schools. A principal must have the ability to review a prospective teacher’s background. Principals determine whether applicants are capable of teaching a necessary subject or subjects, and whether they would be a good fit within a given school.

Budget. A principal is responsible for receiving, overseeing, and evaluating a school’s budget. The principal determines budget deficiencies, and finds solutions to maximize resources and continue daily operations. When the school doesn’t have enough funds to run appropriately, the principal must advocate on behalf of the student body and the faculty to secure additional funds for the following school year.

Curriculum. A principal must oversee all curriculum development, and ensure that a curriculum follows federal and state mandates, is in compliance with school district standards, and is in line with the school’s mission, vision, and goals. In this way, the principal ensures that a school is fostering students’ growth and development.

Discipline and parent relations. While many teachers are the front-line for communicators with students, parents, and guardians, the principal is the ultimate authority of the school, and handles the most complex issues. When a student shows a pattern of unacceptable behavior, for example, the principal may oversee an action plan to get the student back on track.

Student assessment. Principals are ultimately responsible for the performance of their school. For this reason, principals will often monitor students’ progress to ensure they are on track to meet their educational goals. Principals may also offer counseling and guidance to students who are struggling, or are at risk for failing or dropping out.

Teacher evaluation and support. Given that the principal is the hiring authority for credentialed staff, he or she is also responsible for providing annual evaluations and giving teachers a chance to adjust areas that are in need of improvement. Principals must also ensure that teachers are given the tools and support necessary for them to do their jobs. This is a key component of efforts to prevent teachers from burning out and leaving the profession.

Pathway to leadership: Steps to becoming a principal in California

If you are interested in becoming a principal in California, it is going to require a lot of hard work, coordination, and patience. The credentialing process can sometimes be confusing, so Noodle has provided a guide to help you navigate each step. Important to note is that California offers a two-tiered credentialing process. The first tier includes a preliminary credential, which is good for five years; the second tier includes a clear credential, which allows you to be a school administrator indefinitely.

To become a principal in California, you must first possess an Administrative Services Credential. Follow the step-by-step instructions below to obtain this credential.

An Administrative Services Preliminary Credential includes the following steps:

  1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree and one of the following:

  2. Complete one of the following:

    • Commission-approved administrative services preparation program;

    • One-year Commission-approved administrative services internship; or,

    • Achieve a passing score on the California Preliminary Administrative Credential Examination.

  3. Satisfy the basic skills requirement.

  4. Gain five years of full-time experience.

  5. Verify employment in an administrative position.

Once you have completed these steps and are ready to pursue an Administrative Services Clear Credential, you must do the following:

  1. Verify that your preliminary credential is valid, and that you have at least two years of successful experience filling a full-time administrative position in a California school.
  1. Complete an administrative services induction program and obtain a program sponsor’s recommendation for the clear credential.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing offers more details about the administrative services credential preparation programs. Once you obtain the clear credential, you are qualified to apply for any principal position in California.

If you are not from California, but are interested in landing a California principal job, your education and credentialing will need to be comparable to what California requires.

California principal career outlook and support

According to the California Department of Education, during the 2016-17 school year, California enrolled 6.2 million students in 10,500 schools. The populous state currently lists 194 principal jobs and 155 vice principal jobs on EdJoin’s job board. While California’s teacher shortages are ongoing, it appears to be difficult to recruit California principals as well. This may be because California is ranked 47th in the U.S. for the number of students per administrator, and also because California doesn’t pay principals as much as would some other states.

There is no doubt that being a principal in California poses challenges. However, the state offers many resources to help develop and foster leadership in education. At the end of the day, serving as a California principal is a sincerely rewarding job.

One well-known resource for principals is the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), which serves as a blanket organization for school leaders throughout the state. The ACSA offers support by dividing the state into 19 geographic regions, so that local issues may be addressed and handled appropriately. ACSA’s mission is to provide bold and authoritative advocacy, inspirational networks of discovery, mutual commitment to excellence, and universal accessibility to learning, in order to develop communities that strengthen individual students and society-at-large. The ACSA offers a list of member services and benefits to California principals, which include a mentor program as well as leadership, networking, and advocacy opportunities.

The California Department of Education (CDE) also provides resources for administrators, such as a digital chalkboard that encourages California educators to collaborate and share resources. CDE is a great source of information on things like standards and frameworks, school and district reporting, conference calendars, common core, nutrition education, and other fiscal and data driven items.

Where can I work as a principal in California?

If you wish to become a principal in California, there are a number of vacancies throughout the state. Glassdoor currently has 170 principal jobs posted on a statewide basis, with 26 located in San Francisco, 41 located in Los Angeles, and 7 located in San Diego.

San Francisco. If you would like to become a principal in San Francisco Bay Area, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has multiple opportunities for you to explore. SFUSD is committed to finding the best leaders to help support and transform a learning environment so that students will graduate with the skills necessary to achieving their future goals. If you are currently a teacher in San Francisco, SFUSD offers an Aspiring Administrator series that provides career pathways, interview preparation, and instruction on best practices for administrators.

Los Angeles. Many Los Angeles teachers choose to become principals in order to make an even greater impact on the 1.5 million students enrolled in LA’s K-12 schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which is the second-largest school district in the country, requires very specific qualifications for principals, including eight years of full-time public school certificated service. LAUSD lists its administrative vacancies on the district website, and provides additional resources to administrator applicants from any outside districts.

San Diego. San Diego provides detailed job postings on the San Diego Unified Job Opportunities board. The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) also encourages prospective employees to apply by providing an overview of the benefits of becoming an educator. SDUSD’s mission is to have all San Diego students graduate with the skills, motivation, curiosity, and resilience necessary to succeed in their lives. San Diego also implemented a district-wide long-term plan for student achievement called Vision 2020. The community-based school reform plan will engage parents, staff, students, and community members to develop a world-class school system by the year 2020.

California principal salary and benefits

Salary.com provides a list of salaries and benefits for principals within 79 cities throughout California. In Los Angeles, the median annual school principal base salary is $115,734, and the median salary with benefits is $157,922. San Francisco principals make an average base salary of $127,791, and $173,652 with benefits, while San Diego principals make an average base salary of $110,168, and $150,645 with benefits. The annual benefits include social security, retirement funds, health insurance, pension, and paid time off.

The BLS reports that the annual mean wage for education administrators in California was $118,810 per year, while the national average was $94,390 per year, as of May 2017. Although the cost of living is much higher than in other states, this puts California in the 75th percentile for principal salaries. Glassdoor indicates that California principals’ average salary is currently $100,438, while Indeed indicates the average principal salary is $95,951.

Final thoughts

If you have a passion for teaching and are willing to take on an education system in the most populated state in the country, you should seriously consider California. Becoming a principal in California will allow you to take on new challenges, have a big impact, and learn and grow as both an administrator and a person.

Lizzie
Lizzie Perrin

Lizzie is a writer and content marketer, with experience in education, finance, public policy, and leadership. She earned a bachelor's degree in communication from UC Davis and a master's degree in public administration from CSU Bakersfield. Lizzie is also a musician and lives in California with her husband and son.