Effective leadership is increasingly recognized as a central ingredient in fostering and sustaining continuous school improvement in a standards-based environment. School district superintendents and site principals play crucial roles in the academic progress of their students and schools.
Superintendents serve as the chief executive officers for their school districts. As the only employee directly hired by the elected school board, superintendents provide a key link between the community and the district’s schools. As managers, superintendents oversee their districts’ implementation of policies and laws, and they ensure the proper use of resources, including state and federal funds. They also prepare budgets and handle union contract negotiations. As leaders, superintendents help drive instructional and curricular improvement in their districts, in response to the requirements of the state and to the needs of the community.
Along with being the school's face to the community, principals are both school leaders and middle managers. As managers, principals evaluate teachers and other staff and oversee the safety and maintenance of school facilities. They also ensure that school staff implement district policies and advocate for their schools within the district infrastructure. Principals are also instructional leaders when they set high academic standards for improving student achievement and provide teachers with extra resources and professional support to help improve student learning.
Some administrative leaders in California, such as in smaller school districts, occupy the hybrid role of superintendent/principal. A superintendent/principal generally heads both a district and a school.
Professional Preparation and Development
The professional preparation and development of school principals has become an increasingly important topic. Research in this area has focused on the importance of well-organized programs that are aligned with professional and state academic standards. These programs need to provide ongoing opportunities to integrate research knowledge with reflection on everyday practice in the workplace. The use of internships, mentoring, and problem-based learning helps provide administrators with access not only to up-to-date knowledge about their work, but also examples of how to use this knowledge to solve real problems.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) has adopted six standards to guide the credentialing of the state's school principals: the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (CPSEL). The CPSEL—which were developed independently by leaders in California’s school administrator community—were adapted from the national Standards for School Leaders, a model established in the mid-1990s by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC). In 2002, the CTC adopted an action plan to revise its preparation standards for administrators “in line with the CPSEL.” As a result, all credentialing programs for California principals must align their curricula with the CPSEL to receive CTC accreditation.
The CPSEL describe important aspects of administrative practice that should be included in CTC-accredited programs for principals. They lay out a complex leadership and management role that is consistent with the demands of standards-based reform, including such topics as cultivating school cultures and instructional programs oriented toward the continuous improvement of student learning and professional growth.
Anyone working as a school principal in California is expected to have an administrative credential. California offers two credentials for school-site administrators: the Preliminary Administrative Services Credential and the Professional Clear Administrative Services Credential.
To obtain a preliminary credential, candidates must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (); possess a valid credential as a teacher, specialist (such as in reading or math), or pupil services provider (such as a counselor, social worker, or psychologist) and have completed three successful, full-time years in that role. In addition, aspiring principals must do one of the following: complete a program in administrative services accredited by the CTC; complete a CTC-accredited, one-year internship offered by a college or university, or pass the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (offered by the Educational Testing Service, or ETS).
When candidates complete the preliminary credential program, they receive a certificate of eligibility. Once they find employment as an administrator, they exchange the certificate for the preliminary credential, which is valid for five years. Once new administrators have completed two years of successful, full-time work, they must do one of the following to earn a professional “clear” credential
- Complete a CTC-accredited college- or university-based program.
- Complete the .
- Meet Master of Fieldwork Performance Standards through a CTC-accredited program. This requires candidates to show that they have reached a level of administrative competence that merits recommendation for the credential.
- Complete an alternative program approved by the CTC.
The professional clear credential is valid for five years. It can be renewed upon completion of additional professional growth and service requirements.
Administrators who have completed an out-of-state administrator program and have met the basic credential and service requirements qualify for a preliminary credential. If, in addition, they have been an administrator for three or more years, they qualify for a professional clear credential.