Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 10
Gender Gap Persists
In District Offices
An Unappealing Job?
Though only a small number make it to the
helm, women currently run some of the largest
school systems, including those in New York City,
Los Angeles, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., and
So why do so few women occupy the top job?
Some simply don't want it. They prefer teaching
and being close to students. The hours are punishing, school board politics can be brutal, and public
scrutiny is intense. The average superintendent
stays on the job less than five years. For some
women, that uncertainty is not worth uprooting
The search for superintendents also traditionally has pulled from districts' pool of secondary
school principals. Women, who were more likely to
be elementary principals, were less likely to be immediately tapped. Part of the problem stems from
districts' lack of planning for long-term leadership,
which makes it difficult to spot talented educators,
including women, who could be groomed to be in
charge. Educators also see subtle biases in how
school boards and search firms recruit candidates,
and negative stereotypes about women's abilities to
lead large institutions are still pervasive.
And with so few women in the top job, prospective female leaders have limited opportunities to
network-losing out on mentors who can advise
them on applying for the job, getting the right experience, and navigating difficulties.
While educators and scholars say it's crucial that
more women occupy the top leadership positions in
K-12, the more than one dozen current or former
women superintendents interviewed by Education
Week are adamant that they want to be hired because they are qualified.
"I don't want to be offered a position because I
am a woman; likewise, I don't want to lose a position because I am a woman," said Julie Mitchell, the superintendent of the Rowland Unified
district in Southern California. "It's really about
what you can contribute to the organization, and
men at every level
of the K-12 career
ladder except the
Chad Kirkland for Education Week
according to a survey conducted this summer by
AASA, the School Superintendents Association.
But that number represents improvement since
2000, when 13 percent were women.
In Utah, the number of women in superintendent's offices can be counted on one hand. Schenectady, N.Y., hasn't had a woman in charge in
the district's 162-year history. Just two years ago,
Richmond County, Georgia's second-largest district,
hired its first female superintendent.
"It's a huge problem," said Margaret Grogan, the
dean of the college of educational studies at Chapman University in Irvine, Calif. "If we have talented
administrators, wouldn't you want all of the talented
administrators to move into the superintendency?
After all, that's the position that has the most power
to facilitate the growth and development of all of the
children and families in the district."
Emile Wamsteker for Education Week
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
what you can contribute to the work that can be
done, regardless of what your gender is."
At the same time, Mitchell acknowledged: "I
think it would be naïve to think there are not
some stereotypes that exist."
It wasn't always that way, said Thomas Glass,
a retired professor of education leadership at the
University of Memphis.
In 1930, when the education profession was
even more female-dominated than now, the American school system was mostly rural, and women
ran many of the nation's countywide districts,
Glass said. With the end of World War II, and
male veterans' taking advantage of the GI Bill,
more men started entering the profession.
"Women kind of got shoved to the back of the
bus in the '40s, '50s, and '60s," Glass said.
Qualifications, Not Gender
When they do get the job, women often face
scrutiny men don't, some superintendents said.
They are told to smile more, their appearances
are critiqued, and they can face harsh treatment
when they assert their authority.
Deborah Jewell-Sherman, a former superintendent in the Richmond, Va., district, recalled
a searing moment when she rebuked a colleague
at a meeting.
"I heard somebody pulling him off to the side,
and I heard the B-word," said Jewell-Sherman,
now a professor at the Harvard Graduate School
"I think [it] was, in part, that I had the audacity to
challenge something he was saying," she said. "Part
of it, I think, is race and gender. I think there is an
additional burden for women of color in that role."
Jewell-Sherman is African-American.
Gender is not a consideration when hiring a superintendent, some school board members said.
"We only pay attention to the qualifications of
the candidates," said Judy Nieh, a former school
board member in California's Rowland Unified,
who was on the board in 2005 when it hired its
first female superintendent, Maria Ott.
"As long as the person is a good match with the
district, I think that's far more important than
whether they are male or female," Nieh added.
But Chapman University's Grogan said
board members who don't look for diverse backgrounds when they consider candidates are
compounding the problem, which also plagues
other sectors trying to address underrepresentation of women, African-Americans, Latinos,
and other groups. Top executive positions in
most fields are defined by what worked for the
people who've held the jobs in the past: men.
Two prime examples: long and inflexible hours
and the types of previous job experiences believed to be stepping stones.
School boards also have more authority than
they might think to attract more female candidates to seek superintendents' jobs, said Jacinda
"Jazz" Conboy, the general counsel for the New
York State Council of School Superintendents.
"They can say we value diversity, we want
women applicants, we want minority applicants,"
It's not that women are better leaders or get better results for students, Grogan and others say. But
they may bring attributes that can be huge assets.
The majority of women superintendents started
their careers in classrooms and bring an expertise
on good instruction, and because so many were
principals, they know how to set goals and work
with many players to achieve them, Grogan said.
Barbara Jenkins, the superintendent of Florida's
Orange County district, said those asking for better
representation for women are not seeking special
preference. The issue, she said, is making sure wellqualified women have a fair shot at landing the job
and the right supports to get there.
Jenkins credits Ronald Blocker, her predecessor
in Orange County, with persistently pushing her.
"He'd say 'Snatch the pebble from my hand, it's
time. It's time for you to take on that role,' " she
and secondary school
teachers in the
2011-12 school year.
and secondary school
principals in the
2011-12 school year.
10 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 16, 2016 | www.edweek.org
Park City, Utah
"So many of us go into education
to teach children, and there
are so many other roles in
the education system. I have
a responsibility to continue
to encourage not only other
females, but also our males
who have the skills, to become
"My opinion has always been
that in this day and age, [gender]
shouldn't hold anyone back,
and that we make our own
opportunities. But is it noticeable
when you go to meetings and
there are a lot more males in
the room? Absolutely. But that
doesn't hold me back."
Los Angeles Unified
"For women, I think you just
have to always do more than
100 percent. You have to go over
and beyond to demonstrate you
can do it. And then folks have to
see that that's happening, and
then they'll take a chance."
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 16, 2016
Education Week - November 16, 2016
Few Women Run School Districts. Why?
Trump’s Lesson Plan Awaited
A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
News in Brief
States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Proposed ESSA Spending Rules Encounter Stiff Resistance
Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Governors and Schools Chiefs Results
Ed. Policy on Simmer as GOP Holds Congress
GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
State Ballot Measures
In Mass., Voters Shun More Charter Schools
Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Department May Again Find Itself in GOP Cross Hairs
Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 10
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 11
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 13
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 14
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - State Ballot Measures
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 21
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Senate/House Results
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 29
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 30
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 31
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW1
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW4