If you’re interested in an educational leadership career or you’re pursuing an instructional or student support credential, you might be wondering—what does a superintendent do?
Superintendents oversee entire private and public school districts and make decisions and policies that benefit student and staff success.1 They monitor schools’ progress, allocate funds throughout their districts, interface with the public, and build curriculum strategies that meet state and federal regulations.
But there’s so much more to the superintendent’s job description than school district management. In this guide, we’re breaking down what superintendents can expect from their careers and exploring how to become a superintendent in California.
Responsibilities and Skills of a School Superintendent
First, let’s explore the superintendent role—the duties that form their day-to-day experiences on the job and the skills that superintendents need to thrive in their positions.
The Superintendent Role
Superintendents hold a number of key responsibilities within their school district:
- Financial management – With the help of budgeting experts, superintendents collaborate with the school board and school administrators to manage the funds allocated to a school district from local, state, and federal sources. They essentially become a project manager and determine how much money each school or district program will receive, account for year-to-year changes to funding, and field budgeting questions from district staff, board members, students, and the public.
- Policy-making – Superintendents create and modify district-wide policies that all schools in their jurisdiction must follow. These policies are typically in line with county, state, and federal laws. But superintendents may also make their own regulations in some cases—this is typically done to address specific challenges in their district.
- Curriculum decisions – In addition to policy making, superintendents must be an educational leader and create curriculum guidelines that comply with state and local guidelines (or establish their own). These student benchmarks are designed to produce positive student achievement.
- Visiting schools – Superintendents typically take time to visit the schools and job sites in their districts to collaborate with the school principal or school administrators, field questions from school staff, and interface with students. While superintendents likely won’t visit a school every day, this facetime is critical for policymaking and progress reporting.
- Reporting to state and federal governments – Superintendents, along with their assistant superintendent, must prepare reports for and field questions from state and federal government agencies, as well as school administration—typically state and federal departments of education.
Superintendents are key to school districts’ functions and operations. They’re the highest-ranking leaders in a specific school district, and their duties are critical for student, staff, and school success.
Essential Qualities for Superintendents
What skills and attributes do successful superintendents use in their day-to-day roles? There are many aspects to what makes a good superintendent. Prospective superintendents should make efforts to develop their:
- Leadership and communication skills – As top-ranking leaders for school districts, superintendents must possess the leadership and communication skills needed to manage large groups of instructional and support staff. Superintendents interface with both district employees, job site teams, and the public, so excellent written and verbal communication skills are a must.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving abilities – Problem-solving and critical thinking are key to numerous elements of the superintendent position—in particular, budget and project management, policy-making, and curriculum development.
- Emotional intelligence and resilience – Superintendents’ primary goal is to support students’ school success. To achieve that benchmark, they must empathize with students and the school board to create policies that meet their needs. But superintendents are also somewhat in the public eye. Even when subject to public pressure or scrutiny, superintendents must continue to do what they think is best for students and staff in their districts within the confines of state and federal requirements.
How to Become a Superintendent
In California, superintendents must meet two key criteria:2
- They must obtain a clear Administrative Services Credential
- They must accrue at least five years of experience working in the California school system
Before they can apply for the Administrative Services Credential, prospective superintendents must obtain one of the following prerequisite credentials:
- A California clear or lifetime general teaching credential
- A California clear or lifetime designated subjects teaching credential
- A California clear or lifetime student support credential, including:
- California Pupil Personnel Services Credential
- Teacher Librarian Services Credential
- Speech-Language Pathology Services Credential
- Clinical or Rehabilitative Services Credential
- School Nurse Services Credential
All of the credentials above require completion of a bachelor’s degree or a state-approved education program offered by an accredited higher education institution.
But even prospective superintendents who already have bachelor’s degrees can benefit from completing a high-quality, in-depth advanced degree or specialized program in educational leadership or a related field. Some advantages of completing a program like this include:
- Career skills development
- Credentialing exam preparation
- Hands-on training
- Networking opportunities with state-wide educational leaders
Simply put, advanced training can help future superintendents develop any skills they’ll need to be highly successful in their careers.
Start Your Educational Journey With Alliant International University
If you’re exploring how to become a superintendent, consider enrolling in an Administrator Services Credential program to develop your skills, prepare for examinations, and learn from seasoned educational leaders.
At Alliant International University, our Administrator Services Credential curriculum offers prospective educational leaders the resources and support they need to excel in supervisory positions in California school districts—superintendent, principal, and other administrative roles. Our top-notch instructional staff and flexible online learning platform can set prospective leaders up for successful, enriching careers.
- “Statutory Functions of County Superintendents of Schools & County Boards of Education.” California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. January 2020. https://www.scoe.org/files/Statutory_Functions-5-13-20.pdf. Accessed August 18, 2023.
- “California Educational Code Section 1208.” California Legislative Information. 1987. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sec…. Accessed August 18, 2023.