School & District Management

Superintendent Group Launches Initiative to Boost Women in Education Leadership

By Denisa R. Superville — April 28, 2016 5 min read
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AASA, the School Superintendents Association, has launched a new initiative to help women reach the superintendency earlier in their careers and persist once they are on the job.

The AASA is still putting together the building blocks of the initiative called “More Than A Power Lunch: Building Networks to Support and Advance Women in School Leadership,” but officials at the organization said that they expected the program to benefit women who are both aspiring and current superintendents. The effort is backed by a $450,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,

“More Than a Power Lunch” is part of the organization’s ongoing efforts to improve the quality of networking, coaching, and peer-to-peer mentoring for women who aspire to take on leadership roles in K-12 education. It is also aimed at reducing some of the social barriers women face in reaching the top jobs in school districts, the AASA said.

MaryAnn Jobe, the organization’s director of leadership development, said that the big prize will be to “increase the number of women going into the school superintendency and becoming CEOs of school districts.”

In a survey of superintendents published last year, the ASSA found that women became superintendents later in their careers than men and reported lower job satisfaction than their male counterparts. Among the respondents, men were more likely than women to be hired for the superintendent’s job from within their school districts. Women also tended to have shorter tenures, based on the survey results.

“Most often, [women] are at the district level, they are in curriculum and instruction, they are in different departments,” Jobe said, “and by the time they get to the superintendency, they are probably over 40 or 45. ...They don’t move around as much as men do. They usually stay local, and they usually—except for a very few—go into your smaller school districts, your rural, and your suburban school districts. It takes a lot longer for a woman to work her way up to being the superintendent of a large school district.”

Tapping Leadership Talent

The AASA has assembled a team of 10 women from the K-12, education research, and business worlds who will serve as partners and mentors to those in the program.

Jobe and Vera Turner, a program manager at the AASA, said the women who were chosen to be part of what the AASA is calling the “National Women’s Leadership Consortium” are devoted to gender equality and “committed to trying to build the field of aspiring female administrators.”

Members of the National Women’s Leadership Consortium members include:

  • Ann Blakeney Clark, superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. district;
  • Jacinda H. Conboy, general counsel, The New York State Council of School Superintendents;
  • Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president for program, National Women’s Law Center, Washington;
  • Margaret Grogan, dean of the College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, Calif.;
  • Patricia E. Neudecker, consultant, Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the executive search firm, Hazard Young and Attea, Wis.;
  • Cheryl A. Oldham, vice president of education policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington;
  • Ruth Pérez, superintendent, Paramount Unified School District, Calif.;
  • Judith Rattner, superintendent, Berkeley Heights N.J. district;
  • Melody Schopp, South Dakota Secretary of Education; and
  • Amy F. Sichel, superintendent, Abington School District, Pa.

This team is expected to tackle some of the barriers women face in moving up the ranks and come up with a plan to address those issues, according to the AASA.

The organization is in the process of contacting state education agencies to get a list of all the female superintendents in their states to get a better picture of the landscape. The AASA also plans to ask school districts to nominate female school leaders who would like to become superintendents to join the program as part of an aspiring leaders network.

The AASA envisions the aspiring leaders network as a virtual program where the women will have the opportunity to engage in discussions and learn from each other. The 10 women who are in the national consortium will serve a mentoring role for aspiring leaders.

Turner says that lessons and other findings from the program will be shared with the larger AASA membership. The initiative will also have its own page on the AASA website, which it will use to share webinars, workshops, findings, and other work in which the group is engaged.

Jobe said that she is also hoping that the women from the corporate world can help educators think differently about succession planning, something that is baked into the DNA of corporations, but is less so in education.

“You walk into IBM or Xerox on the first day of work [and] they ask you ‘where do you want to be in five years, where do you want to be in 10 years?’ That doesn’t happen in education,” Jobe said. “These women will help us understand how [to] take some of that business model and put it into an education model...where we can help women as they aspire [to leadership positions] get the tools, resources, and experiences they need in order to move into a top leadership position.”

Dan Domenech, the AASA’s executive director, said the project was an “historic” undertaking for the organization.

“Although many states and smaller organizations have women’s networks, there has never been one that encompasses today’s national thought leaders who can discuss the roles of women in the United States in leadership positions, especially ones that lead our school systems,” he said.

The organization is also planning additional conferences around women in school leadership, with one scheduled for September in Newport Beach, Calif., and another for October in Alexandria, Va. And the women’s initiative will make a big splash at the AASA’s annual gathering in New Orleans next year. The AASA will also add a new aspiring women leaders’ award to the list of honors given out at its annual conference.

You can find more information and keep track of the new initiative here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.