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

teens with hands raised

Montana’s education system is prized because it’s hope for the future.

Funded to the tune of $2.3 billion in the 2025 biennium budget, the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) has a challenging mandate to ensure every student has equal access to quality education and is prepared for success upon graduation.

While Montana schools tend to rank higher than the national average, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

When it comes to STEM education Montana lags behind all its neighbors except Idaho according to the STEM Opportunity Index. Montana fares slightly better when it comes to its high school graduation rate: 88% is good enough to out-compete two of its four neighboring states.

Developing successful students is an ongoing challenge, and it’s leadership from individual classroom teachers through school principals and superintendents that makes the difference. It’s no small task in a state that’s home to 826 schools, 402 districts, nearly 11,000 licensed teachers, and a student body population of 149,198.

You know what you can accomplish in the classroom, and you want to try for an even greater influence at the school and even district-level in an administrative leadership role. It’s time to explore what’s next in your career’s trajectory, and this starts with a graduate degree in educational leadership.

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

In Montana, becoming a principal means earning a Class 3 Principal License. You can choose to earn this for grades K-12, elementary, or secondary.

Qualifying for this license means you’ll need to meet certain experience and education requirements.

Throughout this process you’ll be working with the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI), and can submit application materials through its online Teach Montana (TMT) portal.

Step 1. Verify Your Teaching Experience

To fulfill the experience requirement for a Principal License you need to have completed at least three years of teaching on a standard unrestricted license.

As you know, earning a standard unrestricted teaching license in Montana requires:

Step 2. Complete the Education Requirement

At minimum, to qualify for the Class 3 Principal License you need a master’s degree in educational leadership, or one that’s related to education.

Additionally you must complete an EPP that’s approved by the OPI. The EPP you complete must be for principals at the grade level you want licensure in: K-12, elementary, or secondary.

EPPs are graduate-level courses that can be taken as a stand-alone series, they can result in a graduate certificate, and they are also commonly combined with a graduate degree program such as:

Your graduate courses in educational leadership cover important topics like:

The OPI also requires that you complete three semester credits covering Montana school law, and this must include coverage of special education law. Your principal EPP typically includes these.Since you’re already a licensed teacher you likely fulfill the requirement to complete an educational course covering Indian education in Montana.

Step 3. Apply for a Principal License

At this point you’re ready to submit an application for the Class 3 Principal License with the OPI through your online TMT portal.

If you’ve completed all requirements except three credits on Montana school law then you can apply for a Class 5 Provisional Principal License that allows you to work as an administrator for up to three years while you complete this outstanding requirement.

If you’re lacking additional classes to fulfill the education requirement then the Principal Internship Program may provide you with an alternative path for licensure.

School Principal Salary and Jobs in Montana

According to the OPI there are 435 elementary schools, 218 middle schools, and 173 high schools in Montana. And each one of these needs a principal.

When it comes to principal salary, represented by the US Department of Labor’s 2022 statistics for the 75th percentile of K-12 administrators, Montana proves to have a fairly even distribution of salaries across the urban-rural divide:

The OPI reports that school size in Montana breaks down as follows:

Some of the largest schools in the state are:

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

Advancing your career up to the level of superintendent means you’ll need a Class 3 Superintendent License. This involves completing education and experience requirements.

You’ll work with the state’s OPI to earn this, and can submit your application through your online Teach Montana (TMT) portal.

Step 1. Fulfill the Experience Requirement

The OPI requires that you meet two experience requirements to qualify for a Superintendent License:

Step 2. Fulfill the Education Requirement

There are several pieces for fulfilling the education requirement, and the first is a graduate degree. You must earn a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited professional educator or educational leadership program. These programs result in credentials like:

Next, you must earn at least 18 graduate semester credits studying specifically in an educator preparation program (EPP) for school superintendents. The OPI maintains a list of approved EPP programs. At least 12 of these credits must be beyond a master’s degree in educational leadership.

EPP school superintendent courses cover important subjects like:

Step 3. Apply for a Superintendent License

At this point you’re prepared to apply for a Class 3 Superintendent License through your TMT portal. Congratulations, you’ve made it!

If you’ve met all requirements except for 15 semester credits of outstanding parts of the education requirement, you may be able to apply for a Class 5 Provisional Superintendent License that’s valid for three years. This allows you to work as a superintendent while you complete your outstanding education requirements.

Superintendent Salary and Jobs in Montana

The OPI reports a total of 402 school districts throughout the state, and each one of those is ultimately under the guidance of a superintendent.

The US Department of Labor details the following for Montana’s 2022 superintendent salaries, as represented by the 90th percentile for K-12 administrators. There’s a clear distinction between salaries in urban areas versus rural ones:

According to the OPI the largest school districts in the state are:

Of the state’s 402 districts:

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

We’ve researched every graduate educational leadership program in Montana along many different metrics and highlighted the most distinguished private non-profit programs. With flexible options to study on-campus and online, don’t let your own hesitancy be the biggest obstacle to advancing your career to the next level!

Rocky Mountain College

Accreditation: NWCCU
Campus, online

Rocky Mountain College

Master of Educational Leadership

2021 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 March 2023.

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