What does the school board do? What does a principal do?

Teachers & Principals | 03/26/2013

Anne Martens
Former Marketing & Communications Director

Anne is the former Marketing & Communications Director for Stand for Children Washington.

In Washington state, there are many levels of decision-making that affect children in school.

The legislature sets statewide policies for each school district. Locally elected school boards also make policy decisions for their school district.

These statewide and local policies are implemented by the superintendent, and then are put into day-to-day practice by the principal and teachers at every school. 

What does a School board do?

  • Bargains with the teachers union
  • Sets the budget for the district
  • Strategic planning
  • Hires and manages the superintendent

The locally elected school board sets the vision and goals for the district, implements policies that are designed to get better results, and bargains with the local teachers union. The contract with the teachers union determines procedures for hiring and firing, how to use performance evaluations, professional development, benefits, hours, and anything else related to a teacher's employment.

The school board also sets the budget and decides spending priorities for the whole district. In Washington, there are 295 school districts; the biggest school districts are in Seattle and Spokane.

What does a superintendent do?

  • The top executive ("CEO") of the school district
  • Implements the school board’s vision for education by making day-to-day decisions about programs, spending, staff and facilities
  • Hires, supervises and manages the central staff and principals
  • Reports to the school board

Superintendents must work with school leaders -- principals -- to serve the needs of students and meet the district goals.

The superintendent must also respond to the demands of all the other constituencies and interest groups in the district: teachers, students, parents, staff, advocates, and the community at large. She or he must consider how to use the financial and human resources of the district in order to achieve the best results. While being mindful of competing demands, a great superintendent will be guided by what is best for all students.

Learn more about what makes a great superintendent.

What does a school principal do?

  • Manages staff and student body
  • Manages day-to-day operations of the school
  • Reports to the superintendent

The principal is the top educator at a school. The principal provides vision and direction to increase student performance, manages day-to-day operations, provides staff development and evaluation, and builds relationships with parents and the community.

Right now in Washington, a principal does not have any say in which teachers teach at his or her school. Instead, hiring and staffing decisions are made at the district-level.

Working Together

To get the best results, teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards should all work together and stay focuse doing what's best for kids.

Learn more about how school districts work from the state Office of the Education Ombudsman.

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  • Your remarks state that the school principal does not have any say in which teachers teach at his or her school. Instead, hiring and staffing decisions are made at the district-level. Yet you go on to say that teachers, principals and superintendents should all work together. Have you given any thought to the disconnect between these two statements? School principals are held responsible for supervising, evaluating, developing and building a learning culture in his or her school. Knowing the real needs of students in the school and developing a learning culture in the school necessitates the direct involvement of the school principal in the recruitment, selection, re-recruitment and development of personnel within the school. Your out of date and inhibiting practices of the human resources function in schools are indeed troublesome.
    M. Scott Norton

    August 10, 2016 3:14 PM

  • Scott- Principals in WA state don't hire the teachers. It's done by the school board. Those are the facts here. We are not a government entity, so we don't make those rules. As a nonprofit we do advocate for high quality education for all children, regardless of zip code, so that they are adequately prepared for a post-secondary career and/or college.

    August 10, 2016 3:38 PM