The Glass Chalkboard

The Glass Chalkboard

Every summer the Kansas School Superintendent’s Association
has a summer conference to give superintendents an opportunity to network and
learn from each other.  I have been
attending these meetings for longer than I care to think about.  At this year’s meeting, a couple of
old-timers noted how much the meetings have changed over the years.  The biggest change noted by this individual
was in the number of female superintendents. 
I chimed in, saying yes, I can remember when it was just Sandi and
Winona.    They looked at me and said, “Who?”
In 1985 I was finishing a year of graduate school and
searching desperately for a district willing to take a chance on a 25-year-old
principal candidate with 3 years of teaching experience and a load of student
loans.  My son, who recently graduated
from WSU with a biology degree (anyone hiring?) described the job search process
as throwing resumes over a cliff and hoping one of them gets stuck on the way
down.  That was my experience,
exactly! 
Then one day, I got a call from the Ell-Saline School
District.  Dr. Sandi Terrill wanted me to
come for an interview.  Even better,
after the interview, she offered me the job! 
Obviously, female superintendents have EXCELLENT judgment? 
The primary point of this trip down memory lane is that
Sandi Terrill was the only female superintendent in the state in 1985.  The secondary point is that Sandi was a great
superintendent, and I learned so many things from working with her.  One of the things I learned is that sexism
was alive and well in Kansas in 1984, and she dealt with it with grace and
professionalism.  I confirmed a belief that
women can be great educational leaders.
So 30 years have passed, what is the state of gender
equity in the superintendency in Kansas? 
Fortunately, those statistics are readily available.  There were 304 school districts in 1984, so
the percentage of female superintendents was .03%.  It didn’t change much for the next decade,
ranging between two and three females until 1991 when it finally jumped to over
1% (4). The chart below shows a fairly steady increase until the past three
years, when progress has flattened out at 15% (45 females).
Some context might be helpful at this point.  While the general population has slightly
more females than males, in the teaching profession females out number males
significantly.  A 2011 report in “Education News” showed that Kansas had the lowest percentage of female teachers
in the country at 70%. However, the national percentage of female
superintendents is 24%.  Still low, but
much higher than Kansas.

So we know that in Kansas, 70% of the teachers are female, but
only 15% of the superintendents.  Maybe
female teachers just aren’t interested in being administrators?  But look at the graph again.  The blue line represents the percentage of
female principals.  There has been a
steady increase to 41%.  The green line
shows the percentage of assistant superintendents who are female- 63%!  Almost the 70% one would expect.  So we have 70% of teachers, 40% of principals,
63% of the assistant superintendents and 15% of superintendents who are
female. 
Why the drop-off at the top? 
There has been a lot of speculation about this.  Dr. Dawn Johnson wrote a dissertation on the
subject for Wichita State University. 
She also has good, research-based suggestions for women who hope to
attain the superintendency.  Her work
focused on the individual seeking the job. 
Because Kansas has such a low percentage of female superintendents (24%
national v 15% state), should we all ask ourselves what “we” could do to expand
and improve the pool of potential candidates and not assume it is all on
“them”? If people are still holding a grudge against women because Sandi
Terrill hired me as a principal, it’s time to get over it!
What can local boards do? Begin by refusing to accept a too
commonly held belief that “our community isn’t ready for a female
superintendent” or “a woman isn’t tough enough for this job.” Consider all
candidates equally and respectfully.
What can your state associations (KASB, KSSA, et al) do? Use
more female superintendents to assist in the search process.  Help board members see that we have
successful female superintendents all over Kansas, not to mention a highly
successful female commissioner!  Provide
training and opportunities for networking for potential superintendent candidates.
Help mentor and develop strong leaders, regardless of gender.

Being a school superintendent is a tough, but very rewarding
job.  We have thousands of female
teachers who are in the trenches every day excelling at a tough and rewarding
job.  We should encourage more of them to
rise to the top leadership role and shatter the glass chalkboard.