Should More Women Become Superintendents?
In 2016, reporter Shelly Webb took over the education beat at the Houston Chronicle and began to do some digging. While familiarizing herself with how schools function and what issues impact student achievement, Webb stumbled upon an unexpected reality: Almost all of the superintendents in the Houston area were men. In an interview with the Education Writers Association, Webb detailed how this led her to discover that although more than 70 percent of all teachers in Texas are women, women account for less than 20 percent of the state's superintendents.
Moreover, Webb’s discovery is not a Texas-specific anomaly. Data from the American Association of School Administrators shows that more than 70 percent of teachers across the nation are women, and yet the number of female superintendents hovers around the 15-percent mark. This leads to some important questions. First, why aren’t more women bringing their teaching experience into leadership roles? And second, what impact might more female superintendents have on school districts?
From a logistical stance, both Webb and the AASA found that most superintendents come to the position after serving as both assistant principal and principal. Most female teachers and school-based administrators, however, work in elementary school settings with fewer leadership positions. This points to the lack of an obvious career trajectory from the elementary school classroom to the highest position in the district. The AASA also found that some women felt discouraged from pursuing superintendent jobs, while others believed school boards would select male candidates over them.
In her EWA interview, Webb delved further into the discrepancy, noting that central office jobs are often seen to require a “more than full-time commitment” that would likely have a negative impact on work-life balance. She also described a “problem with younger teachers, especially women teachers, not planning for the future of their career paths.” Specifically, because younger teachers enjoy being in the classroom, they tend not to think ahead and consider someday becoming a principal or, eventually, a superintendent.
So, what is the value in having a female superintendent? Wanda Bamberg, a female administrator from a Houston school district, told Webb of the importance associated with being a role model and “trailblazer” in the eyes of teachers, students and families. Bamberg added that parents often thanked her for being a leader, as this inspired not only young women but also students belonging to minority groups that are even less represented in school leadership positions. Having a woman in a position to make key district-level decisions can help change ingrained ideas about who and what a superintendent looks like.
The Texas Association of School Boards also focused on the issue of female superintendents in August 2016, zeroing in on the experiences of Dr. Karen Rue. As a long-standing Texas superintendent, Rue had to overcome myriad biases to get hired, and along the way she developed numerous ideas about what can be done to encourage more women to pursue high-level school leadership positions. In an interview with TASB's HR Exchange publication, Rue spoke of the need for more mentors in the context of providing young women entering the education field with a better understanding of the possibilities that exist for them.
Ultimately, the AASA research uncovered an encouraging trend: While still low, the number of female superintendents has nearly doubled since the 1990s.
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