19. The Key Roles of the Principal

The Principal is responsible for the management and day-to-day operations and business of the school. The authority to exercise managerial powers is delegated from the Board, which retains responsibility for the overall governance of the School. The Principal oversees the educational programs and developments in the school (and in the broader educational community) and must keep Board Members abreast of these issues. It is critical that the Principal and the Board have confidence in one another.

Good governance involves the School Board and the Principal having an open and honest relationship where there is an effective flow of communication between the parties. As it is the Chair’s role to act as the Board’s primary channel of communication with the Principal, trust, honesty and respect between the Principal and the Chair are essential aspects of good governance. The Principal should attend all Board Meetings except those at which the Principal’s performance is to be discussed. The Principal may or may not be a member of the Board.

Although the Principal usually occupies a unique position in a managerial sense, in order to achieve good governance practices the Principal needs to have managerial roles, responsibility and accountability similar to those of the Chief Executive Officer of a commercial undertaking. It is important that the roles, responsibilities, delegations and authority of the Principal are clearly defined and understood.

These should include:

  • management powers
  • appointing school staff
  • managing expenditure within budget
  • implementing the Board’s Strategic Plan by effectively managing the School’s resources;
  • remuneration (level determined by individual School)
  • key performance indicators
  • performance management
  • delegations
  • authority and responsibility levels
  • dealing with relationship issues.

The above should be clear and unambiguous.  Each Board Member and the Principal need to understand these issues. At the time of appointment the Principal should be given a formal job description and a letter of appointment outlining the duties, rights and responsibilities attached to the role.

Good governance requires the school to have clear guidelines determining the boundaries between the governance role of the Board and the day-to-day management of the school, which is the Principal’s role. The following processes are useful in achieving appropriate separation of roles:

  • formalise and disclose the delegation of authority to the Principal
  • formalise and disclose the authority reserved to the Board
  • define the role of Principal in a job description
  • ensure that key performance indicators are in place to measure the Principal’s performance.

Questions and Answers

“Should the Principal be a member of the School Board?”

This will really depend on the particular circumstances of the School. A larger school with access to a range of resources may prefer for the Principal not to sit on the Board. However, a smaller school with more limited resources may not have this luxury and it may be more practical to have the Principal as a Board Member. Either way, it is important to always maintain clear separation between school governance and management.

“The Principal runs the School and the Board.  Is this good governance?” No.  It is a vital aspect of good governance that the management and governance of the school be separated. If the Principal runs the Board then there is no desirable forum to discuss the Principal’s performance. Board Members will tend to feel intimidated and this will hinder honesty, transparency and accountability. The overall functioning of the Board will suffer.

“Where do you draw the line between what is governance and what is management?” The line between governance and management essentially denotes a separation between policy and administration. The Board deals with policy issues and the Principal runs the school on a day-to-day basis. The authority reserved to the Board and the management powers delegated to the Principal should be clearly documented so that all parties are clear as to their responsibilities. Where the lines are blurred it is essential that there be communication between the Chair and the Principal.