The average school principal’s pay in North Carolina, $64,209, ranks near the bottom in national surveys, and the truth is that even many parents who are well-informed about school issues probably don’t know that. Teacher pay, even with recent paltry increases, also is inadequate, but because principals do make more than teachers, it’s easy to overlook them. Now, legislators are preparing to address the issue of pay. Sen. Jerry Tillman said, “We haven’t done anything for administrators in a long time.”
But consider the tasks of a principal: being on campus at the day’s beginning and at its end; attending all “events” at a school; meeting constantly with parents; hiring and keeping teachers; overseeing the physical plant of a school.
One veteran Wake principal, now retired, characterizes the job as “24-7,” and that doesn’t seem like an exaggeration. And for those at larger schools with a myriad of events going on all the time, there’s never a day off, morning or night.
Of all a principal’s duties, hiring good teachers may be the most challenging. It’s made no easier by the fact that teacher pay in the state is low, and teachers no longer enjoy substantial boosts in pay an advanced degree used to mean. Teachers — and principals — also are now asked to be surrogate parents as well as educators, and the very best ones feel the stress of trying to help disadvantaged kids or those from troubled homes get through the day. There is even a concern about making sure some children get enough to eat.
In the case of principals, there also is a tremendous amount of paperwork to deal with local and state school bureaucracies, obey various mandates on curricula, and try to ensure that in addition to the basics, students have an opportunity to enjoy some exposure to the arts and playing in school bands and orchestra. And schools no longer close up at the end of the regular school day; there are after-school programs in virtually all elementary schools, for example. Ultimately, one person answers for everything: the principal.
Lawmakers are considering a plan to at least pay more to principals at struggling schools or in poor districts. That’s absolutely appropriate, because there is a variation in pay, statewide. Those principals in the larger districts might be getting healthy supplements to state salaries. But those in less-affluent districts might get no supplements at all.
A school’s success is dependent on many things, but the principal, most school officials agree, is the key to making a school work. And that’s hard work — for which principals deserve bigger rewards than those they’re getting.