Skip to main content
Yellow mobile icon

What to Expect When Transitioning From Principal to Superintendent

From managing staff and building rapport with parents to ensuring students excel in the classroom, principals must master a wide array of skills to be effective campus leaders.

When administrators make the leap to become superintendents, those same demands multiply overnight. The district’s top leader is not only expected to push schools to new academic heights but also create positive relationships with community organizations, government agencies and the media as the most visible representative of the school district.

The University of Wisconsin – Superior’s online Educational Specialist – Superintendent District Administrator program prepares educators to face these challenges head-on. By learning the ins and outs of crisis management and long-range planning, graduates will obtain the necessary skills to smoothly transition into a superintendent role.

What’s the Difference Between Principals and Superintendents?

Thanks to their proximity to students, teachers and staff, principals have frequent opportunities to see how programs are being implemented in the classroom and how the school might improve its approach to meet student needs. Closing the achievement gap on the campus level teaches principals how to do more with less, making the principalship one of the best training grounds for the superintendency, according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

On the surface, superintendents have similar responsibilities to principals. Both positions oversee budgets, coordinate programs to improve student outcomes, make personnel decisions and ensure campuses meet state and federal standards, according to MegaInterview. But superintendents face their own challenges, along with a higher level of scrutiny from the public and their employees. The superintendent is responsible and accountable for all decisions made within the school districts. They work with the school board to implement policies and procedures within the district. These individuals report directly to the school board.

Rather than solely communicating their plans to campus community members, superintendents answer to other audiences — including school board members, taxpayers and media members — according to the NAESP. Because they cannot personally observe the implementation of educational programs on every campus, superintendents look to data to determine the effectiveness of an initiative.

In addition to managing staff one-on-one, superintendents must communicate a clear message that inspires long-term commitment among staff they have not personally met, especially when a district faces uncertainty.

Make the Most Out of Your First 180 Days

It’s not uncommon for school systems, especially those with fewer than 1,200 students, to welcome a superintendent who has come directly from the principal ranks, according to the NAESP. To make an effective transition, educators should be intentional about where and how they spend their time.

Over the first three months on the job, Thought Exchange suggests superintendents spend as much time as possible visiting classrooms, connecting with their leadership team and meeting with parents, school board members and facilities staff. These interactions will not only build trust but also offer insight into the district’s culture — and where leadership will need to make changes to help campuses succeed.

The next three months should include developing a strategic plan for achieving short-term and long-term goals during the superintendent’s tenure. This process could begin with a review of the current plan with several stakeholder groups to determine how it aligns with future goals, according to Hanover Research.

After developing goals and methods to accomplish them, workshop the ideas with community members and allow their feedback to inform how the plan moves forward. An effective strategic plan will also frequently address the criteria used to evaluate superintendents. Thought Exchange notes that these leadership qualities include effective implementation of district policies, community relations, curriculum planning, personnel management and ethical leadership.

Learning the Ropes of Superintendent Leadership at UW-Superior

Students enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Superior online Ed.S. in Education Administration – Superintendent/District Administrator program will obtain the knowledge they need to step into a superintendent role.

Graduates of the program are eligible for Wisconsin’s K-12 superintendent license, providing a clear path for principals and educators with master’s degrees to confidently move forward in their careers.

Learn more about UW-Superior’s online Ed.S. in Educational Administration – Superintendent/District Administrator program.

Related Articles

Our Commitment to Content Publishing Accuracy

Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only. The nature of the information in all of the articles is intended to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered.

The information contained within this site has been sourced and presented with reasonable care. If there are errors, please contact us by completing the form below.

Timeliness: Note that most articles published on this website remain on the website indefinitely. Only those articles that have been published within the most recent months may be considered timely. We do not remove articles regardless of the date of publication, as many, but not all, of our earlier articles may still have important relevance to some of our visitors. Use appropriate caution in acting on the information of any article.

Report inaccurate article content:

Request Information

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
or call 844-222-2059

Begin Application Process

Start your application today!
or call 844-222-2059 844-222-2059

for help with any questions you may have.