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Study Urges More Support For Women Superintendents

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While there is no one reason why women leave their jobs as school district superintendents, school boards, universities, and professional organizations can build support networks to help retain women in such jobs, a new report concludes.

The report finds that many women superintendents leave their positions for personal reasons, to take other jobs in the field, or because they are disaffected with the politics of school district leadership.

It was commissioned by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, a group of 10 education organizations developing national standards for administrators.

Two-thirds of the 20 women interviewed for the survey left their jobs involuntarily. And, for 14 of the 20, their first year in the position was also their last.

The study was undertaken because little attention has been paid to how to retain female administrators in a field where "women are woefully underrepresented,'' the report says.

About 94 percent of the nation's school superintendents are male, according to the report, which was funded by the Danforth Foundation.

While few of the women identified gender-related issues as their primary reason for leaving the position, most indicated that their sex influenced how they were perceived in the job.

For example, some said they were told by board members, administrators, or teachers that they had not been acting "tough enough.''

Report's Recommendations

The report suggests several ways in which groups that train, hire, and provide professional development for women administrators can support them in their work.

  • Local school boards can provide time and encouragement for women superintendents to take part in state and regional networking, and should conduct ongoing assessments of superintendents' progress;
  • Universities can expand preparation for educational leaders to include long-term advocacy and other outreach programs for women or other underrepresented groups in the superintendency;
  • State policymakers can strengthen affirmative-action policies in administration by reviewing and reporting on hiring and retention of women in the field; and
  • The national policy board can create a national data bank of prospective, current, and departing female superintendents that is readily available to school boards and superintendent-search consultants.

Free copies of the study, "Gender and Politics at Work: Why Women Exit the Superintendency,'' are available from the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, 4400 University Dr., Fairfax, Va. 22030-4444; (703) 993-3644.

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