Learn How to Become a Principal, Superintendent, or Other Administrator in Iowa with a Doctorate or Master’s in Educational Leadership

kids in class talking

The current state of Iowa’s K-12 education is relatively good, but there is always room for improvement.

As of fiscal year 2024 Iowa’s Department of Education is slated to get $3.85 billion in funding. That will go towards supporting its approximately 486,476 students enrolled in public K-12 schools, and represents yet another increase in funding compared with previous years.

Iowa’s high school graduation rate has stayed relatively constant over the past decade. In 2022 it was 89.9%, the year before it was 90.2%, and a decade ago it was 89.7%. Iowa’s rate is better than all its neighboring states.

Daily attendance rates by the end of the 2022 school year were 91.8% for K-12th graders. The percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches fell by a percentage point, but for the school year ending in 2022 it still encompassed nearly 41% or all students.

Nearly half of all high school seniors took the ACT this past year, an increase of two percent over the previous year, however that number is still far from what school and state leaders had hoped for.

When it comes to teacher retention, 88% of full-time educators stayed on the payroll between 2021 and 2022. That’s a B+.

To many these may seem like dry numbers. But as an experienced teacher, you see the faces behind the statistics.

You’ve been in the classroom, so you know all about those 10% of kids who struggled to graduate. You know colleagues who’ve left the profession because they didn’t feel enough administrative support.

And over the time you’ve spent in the classroom you’ve made observations, had conversations, laughed, and cried about the way things are. Now the leadership quality has twinkled in your eye and you’re thinking about progressing your career onward into educational administration.

At this point it’s time to start thinking about a graduate degree in a field like educational leadership, and to start seriously pondering what it would take to move into positions like principal or even district superintendent.

How to Become a Principal in Iowa – School-level Educational Leadership

As a teacher you can affect the lives of all the students in your classroom. As a principal you can affect all the students in your school. You’ve done the math –and the personal reflecting– to conclude that serving as a principal is right for you.

You’ve already put in some time as a teacher. With three years of experience plus a valid Iowa teaching license you can start down the path towards becoming a principal.

As an experienced teacher you’re already familiar with the typical progression in this field: you start by earning an Initial Administrator License (IAL), onto which you can add a principal endorsement. And then after a year you can convert this into a Professional Administrator License (PAL) with a principal endorsement.

As you complete the licensure and endorsement process, you’ll be working with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE).

Step 1. Complete Qualifying Education – Earn at Least a Master’s Degree

To earn an Initial Administrator License (IAL) with a principal endorsement, you must have a master’s degree. Furthermore, you must complete an approved graduate education program that specifically covers the PK-12 principal endorsement. There are currently 10 schools in Iowa that offer this endorsement program.

Schools will typically combine their PK-12 principal endorsement preparation program together with graduate degree programs resulting in credentials like:

Courses will cover topics like the following, and your studies will include six credits of field experience:

By the time you graduate you’ll need an administrator from the school you attend to serve as your reference when you apply for the IAL. Your professional record must also be free from any pending disciplinary measures.

Once you’ve fulfilled the education requirement you can apply for an IAL with a principal endorsement online through your existing account with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE).

The Initial Administrator License is valid for one year. Having a principal endorsement also qualifies you to serve as a PK-12 special education supervisor.

Step 2. Convert Your IAL to a Professional Administrator License (PAL)

Once you’ve served as a principal for one year on your IAL then you can apply through your existing BOEE account to upgrade your IAL to a PAL with a principal endorsement. As part of your IAL tenure you’ll need to participate in an administrator mentoring program.

You can continue serving as a principal on your new PAL credential. The main difference you’ll notice is that this license is valid for five years, upon which time you can renew it after completing the obligatory continuing education.

School Principal Salary and Jobs in Iowa

Iowa offers some of the best principal salaries around. In 2022 the US Department of Labor reported an annual salary of $127,610 for principals in the state, as represented by the 75th percentile salary for K-12 administrators.

Principal salaries tend to be higher for larger schools and in bigger cities. You can see how the annual principal salary breaks down according to location:

It’s natural that the largest schools are in the largest cities. Lincoln HS in southern Des Moines has a student body that’s over 2,400. The western edge of Des Moines is home to Waukee HS, which is responsible for the education of 2,200 10th to 12th graders and is part of its namesake fastest-growing school district in the state.

The US Department of Labor projects that over the decade leading up to 2030, the number of K-12 education administrator jobs will increase by 330 in Iowa. That’s an 11% growth rate, and over three percentage points higher than the national average.

How to Become a Superintendent in Iowa – District-Level Educational Leadership

Serving as a superintendent is a calling. If you’re looking at what’s beyond working as a school principal, then it’s time to start thinking seriously about your future as a district leader.

But not everyone can just throw their hat into the application pool. There are still further requirements you must fulfill before you can apply for superintendent positions in Iowa.

Step 1. Fulfill the Experience Requirement

You need to have years of relevant experience before you can apply to add a superintendent endorsement onto your PAL credential.

The most straightforward pathway is to have three years of experience as a principal under your belt.

However you can also fulfill this requirement in either of the following ways:

Step 2. Fulfill the Education Requirement

The education requirement to add a superintendent endorsement to your PAL credential is a specialist degree or its equivalent. That means a doctoral degree in education, or a master’s degree plus an additional 30 semester credits of graduate study.

Your degree must cover subject matter that pertains to being a superintendent, and it must be from a school that’s approved to offer the superintendent endorsement. Currently there are four such programs in Iowa.

As part of your degree program you’ll complete a supervised internship. Course content will cover topics like:

Examples of degree titles that include qualifying coursework are:

Once you’ve fulfilled the education requirement you can apply to add a superintendent endorsement onto your PAL credential online through your existing BOEE account.

Superintendent Salary and Jobs in Iowa

According to the Iowa Department of Education, superintendent salaries for the 2022-2023 period averaged out to $170,968 annually.

Over that period Iowa employed approximately 260 full-time district superintendents, with 58 of those serving more than one district.

The superintendents for the following districts earned the highest annual salaries for the 2022-2023 period:

Nine districts throughout the state have enrollment that’s above 10,000 students. In addition to those already listed above these are as follows, along with the accompanying superintendent salary for this period:

In general districts with larger student enrollment correlate with higher salaries for superintendents. The superintendent for the district with the lowest student enrollment, Diagonal CSD serving 112 students in Ringgold County, earned $98,479 for the 2022-2023 period.

Educational Leadership Degree Options in Iowa: Doctorate and Master’s in Educational Leadership

Iowa’s strong points are its teachers and the administrative leadership supporting them. Those are a big part of why the state is a leader in the Midwest of graduation rates, test scores, and teacher retention. But it’s not perfect, and you can make it better. The next step starts by choosing the educational program that’s right for you.

We’ve crunched the numbers on every private non-profit college and university in the state offering a graduate program in educational and administrative leadership.

Dordt University

Accreditation: HLC

dordt university


Also offers:

M.Ed in Teacher Leadership

Drake University

School of Education

drake university


Also offers:

Ed.D in Educational Leadership

Morningside University

Sharon Walker School of Education

morningside university

MAT in Teacher Leadership

Mount Mercy University

Accreditation: HLC

mount mercy university


Also offers:

MA.Ed in Teacher Leadership

Northwestern College

Accreditation: HLC

northwestern college

M.Ed in Educational Administration

Also offers:

M.Ed in Teacher Leadership

Upper Iowa University

Accreditation: HLC

upper iowa university

M.Ed in Teacher Leadership

Also offers:

Graduate Certificate in Teacher Leadership

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for education administrators, kindergarten through secondary. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, Projections Central. Figures are based on state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed May 2023.

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