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The ins and outs of leadership certification

Q & A

November 26, 2019 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary

Question: When my principal or vice-principal is away from school, either short term or on a medical leave, what are the expectations or requirements for acting administration to be in possession of the leadership certification? Further, do teachers applying to leadership positions require the leadership certificate prior to accepting the position?

Answer: As required by the Education Act, effective this past Sept. 1, principals, and only principals, are required to hold valid certification as a school leader. This requirement extends to an individual who is appointed as an acting principal by a board for a period of not more than a year. The Education Act is “silent” when it comes to leadership certification requirements for vice-principals, associate or assistant principals. Such silence in effect excuses them from any such requirement.

Having said that, many vice-principals, associate or assistant principals are now in possession of a leadership certificate. The Alberta Teachers’ Association played a key role in designing and delivering a two-day inservice to vice-principals, associate and assistant principals and central office leaders throughout 2019. The inservice was a short-term means of providing school leaders with a preparation program leading to certification (excepting principals whom the minister deemed eligible to be issued a school leader certificate given that they were already in the role). The inservice was held on 55 occasions in 12 locations throughout the province. Close to 4,000 participants completed the program and subsequently became eligible for certification.

These individuals who on occasion “act for” the principal are not required to possess a leadership certificate.

From time to time school principals attend meetings and other functions that take them out of their school and often out of their community for brief periods of time. To ensure that there is one point of contact at the school for teachers, students and the public, the vice-principal, associate, assistant principal or a classroom teacher will normally be asked to assume the duties of the principal in their absence. These individuals who on occasion “act for” the principal are not required to possess a leadership certificate. Typically, they have not been appointed by the board to be acting principal as per the Education Act, for this relatively brief period. Provisions for compensation exist in collective agreements and vary considerably depending on the particular board and the time frame.

When a school principal is on a short-term leave like a medical leave, the board may appoint an “acting principal” for the duration of the leave. The Education Act requires that an acting principal in such circumstances possess a leadership certificate.

Alberta Education has indicated that certification requirements are not intended to be a barrier to those wishing to apply for a school principalship. They are also not intended to make it difficult for boards to recruit for vacant principalships. Finding interested individuals to take on these positions can be especially challenging in Alberta’s remote and rural areas. To avoid such circumstances, Alberta Education will provide a letter of authority to individuals who do not possess a leadership certificate and have been successful in being appointed as a principal or acting principal. A letter of authority is a form of temporary certification that has conditions applied to it. While working as a school principal under a letter of authority, there will be an expectation of the individual to complete requirements for a leadership certificate within a three-year period.  ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (

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