The Gender Question

The Gender Question

Did our January cover shed a light on the small number of female superintendents in the country?

Creating a magazine is so different from reading a magazine, and even as I realize this, sometimes the gap between the two can be glaring.

Take the cover of District Administration's January issue, for example. For nearly a year, I've wanted to do a major feature story on the Western States Benchmarking Consortium. These seven district leaders, who I first met during a session at the 2005 American Association of School Administrators' conference, have created their own group. They share information with the goal of pushing each other's districts to improve, from upgrading technology to using data to make better curriculum decisions to choosing the best management style.

The story was originally slated to run in our December issue, but it lacked a compelling image. When we discovered this group had a meeting set up, we decided to hold the story for January and take a picture of the entire group. This is exactly how we ended up with a cover picture of seven white, male superintendents. Now, I'm not naive enough to say I didn't notice the lack of diversity in the picture, but since we were writing about an established group I didn't give it much more thought.

That is, until the e-mails started pouring in. Our readers, in particular our female readers, didn't quite see it this way. And taking a big step back from the production of the magazine, I can see why.

Our cover, titled Strength in Numbers, makes no mention of the consortium and leaves the reader thinking the magazine staff selected the seven superintendents. That's obviously a mistake we made in presenting the story. (For more comments on our cover, please see our Letters section.)

For that oversight, I do apologize to those who were offended. Of course, I know there are terrific superintendents, both women and minorities, in school districts throughout the country. In fact, in our Administrator Profile page, where we highlight a superintendent each month, we've written about seven women in the 26 issues since January 2004. (And for the record, four black men and one Hispanic woman.)

If that doesn't sound like a lot, it's because it isn't. Seven of the last 26 profiles is 27 percent. But that's almost twice the rate of actual superintendents who are women--roughly 14 percent. In the last official count, 86.6 percent of superintendents were men and 94.9 percent of all superintendents were white, according to an AASA study in 2000. In 1990, the same study showed that only 6.6 percent of superintendents were women, so much progress was made in those 10 years. The bad news is the trend has slowed significantly; since 2000 the number of female superintendents has edged up only slightly from 13.2 percent, says AASA's Barbara Knisely Michelman.

But gender isn't the big issue, attracting qualified candidates is, says Mary Bush. Bush was the superintendent of the Mt. Carroll (Ill.) Community School District and a member of AASA's Women Administrators Advisory Committee. She lost her job to consolidation and the committee was disbanded. Last month, she rejoined the superintendent ranks when she got the top job in the Williamsfield (Ill.) School District 210.

"Where I'm located, I don't see a glass ceiling for female principals," she says. But she does see a big difference in the number of good applicants for principals' jobs, and those who try to be superintendents. She said the nature of being a superintendent, including the long hours and often frustrating work, is dimming principals' appetites to take the next step. "There's a lack of willingness because of the concerns of the job," she adds.


Advertisement