Assistant Principals

momLast week we talked about the importance of understanding the roles and responsibilities of the school staff.  We started with the building principal, because that is the person with the most day-to-day authority over what happens with your child at school.

Remember –Principals run the school and supervise everyone and everything in the building.  Principals are accountable for everything that happens in their school.

Assistant principals are members of the administrative team who work directly for the principal and take on any administrative duties delegated to them by the principal.

Traditionally, assistant principals are in charge of “butts and buses” – student discipline and transportation.  They also take care of a lot of the administrative details: sending in work orders, keeping track of keys to the building, keeping track of building and grounds maintenance, scheduling rooms, running fire and tornado drills, assigning parking spaces, organizing the procedure for afternoon dismissal, supervising the lunch room.

Principals often ask the assistant principal to take on part of the supervision and leadership load: serving as athletic director, observing and evaluating staff members, attending IEP meetings, meeting with concerned parents, attending school events, mentoring new teachers, functioning as the state-wide test administrator for the building, putting together a master schedule for the school.

High schools often have two assistant principals, one for discipline and one for curriculum and instruction.  Here’s the thing for parents to remember: The assistant principal reports directly to the principal, and the principal is accountable for the assistant principal’s behavior and decisions.

Assistant principals have a background in classroom teaching (academic or vocational) or, traditionally, coaching school sports.  They have a degree in school administration, and many of them are in their first administrative role.  Assistant principal used to be a career job – the school enforcer, so to speak!  Now it’s often an entry level job for those who aspire to become a building principal.  So when parents deal with an assistant principal, they are often dealing with a young person with little or no administrative experience.  I’ve seen many an assistant principal cover up lack of skill and knowledge with bravado and false confidence.

So what makes a good assistant principal?  The bottom line is that assistant principals have to support the goals, priorities, and procedures designed by the building principal.  A primary role is student discipline, so fairness and consistency are essential traits for an effective assistant principal.

Here’s what to do if you run into trouble with an assistant principal:


  • Make sure that you understand the rules, policies, and procedures that apply to the situation.  Check the student handbook.  Go online to the school website and look over the school board policies about student conduct and discipline.  Ask for a copy of the rules and the avenues for appeal.  Do your homework.  And remember – you may know more about the issue than the assistant principal, particularly if it involves the laws that govern special needs.  Don’t be intimidated!
  • Schedule a conference with the building principal to discuss your concerns.  If you are still not satisfied, schedule a conference with the superintendent of schools.


Next week we’ll look at student support services: school psychologists, guidance counselors, school nurses, school social workers.
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