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Women and Minority Superintendents

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Running head: Barriers Women and Minority Superintendents face in Mississippi

What are the barriers women and minority Superintendents face Mississippi?

Tommy B. Molden

University of Southern Mississippi

The position of school superintendent was created during the late 1830; by 1850, 13 large city school systems already employed an administrator in the capacity. By most accounts, the very first district superintendents were appointed in Buffalo, New York, and Louisville, Kentucky (Grieder, Pierce, & Jordan, 1969). By 1900, most city school districts had established this position. The need for school systems to have a top executive stemmed from a myriad of conditions including the development of larger city school districts, the consolidation of rural school districts, an expanded state curriculum, the passage of compulsory attendance laws, demands for increased accountability, and efficiency expectations (Kowalski, 2003) During the past several decades, widespread concern for the condition of the education and the economy launched and sustained what arguably is the most intense effort to reform public education in recent history. For more than two decades (1983-2005), national commission and task force reports examined the condition of American public education, heightened expectations for schooling, and called for improving instruction as well as fundamentally altering the manner in which schools are organized, administered, and governed. Recommendations for improvement that stimulated reform initiatives launched by state legislatures, education agencies, and district leadership. During the early 1990s, interest in large-scale systematic reform also heightened interest in the role of superintendents. Although they are viewed essential to launching and sustaining improvement initiatives, the scope, intensity, and complexity of changes increased demands on superintendents (Brunner,Grogan, &Bjork, 2002) an concurrently raised concerns about how they are being changed as well the need to change. Normative role expectations for local school district superintendents have evolved over the past 150 years, incrementally becoming more extensive, complex, and demanding. By the 1980s, 82% of the states had promulgated laws or policies that required officeholders to complete a prescribed program of graduate study and subsequently obtain a state-issued license (or certificate) to practice. All but three states specified courses that had to be completed, and somewhat surprisingly, only 25 states identified “classroom teaching experience“as a license requirement (Baptist, 1989). More recently, Feistritzer (2003) reported that although 41 states continue to report preparation and licensing for superintendents, more than half of these states (54%) issue either waivers or emergency certificates to individuals who do not meet the prescribed qualifications. In addition, 15 of the 41 states (37%) allow or sanction alternative routes to licensure. Overall, the trend has been toward rescinding requirements for this key position, as evidenced by radical policy decisions such as in Tennessee, in which the only remaining requirement for being a superintendent is a bachelor’s degree (Kowalski & Glass, 2002).
Nearly all superintendents previously worked as building principals and majorities are former assistant principals. Therefore the ladder from the classroom to the superintendency often begins as an assistant principal or as a high school department chair (Glass, 2000). Those responsible for superintendent preparation recognize that doing the same thing in the same way will not produce different results. They also acknowledge that producing different outcomes will require reconfiguring superintendent preparation and reconnecting the academic and practice arms of the profession. Although most scholars and practitioners agree that knowledge and practice are central to successful skill transfer, pre-service professional in work settings (Tan, 1989). Although national commission reports, professional associations, and research findings concur that the acquisitions of professional knowledge in the work-embedded setting is the cornerstone of rebuilding professional rebuilding preparation programs, illustrating how these several dimensions are complimentary is useful (Bjork, Kowalski, and Brown-Ferrigno, 2005). People who work with superintendents on a regular basis or hear them speak at meetings and conferences know they are dedicated educators whose primary objective is to improve the educational experiences of the students in their districts (Sharp, Malone & Walter).
Planning for the Superintendency
The process of planning is extremely important for those who do not have social or political advantages for reaching the superintendency. White males, for example have often benefited from being sponsored by the “good ole boys” network (Hord and Estes, 1993) and they still constitute the vast majority of school superintendents, 87% of all superintendents in 2000 were male and 95% were white. Although every aspiring superintendent faces career barriers, women and minorities usually encounter unique and more complex obstacles. These impediments are commonly known classified as internal and external. Some of the issues faced are socialization, personality, aspiration level, personal beliefs, attitudes, motivation and self image. There are also environmental circumstances such as stereotyping, discrimination, and family responsibilities (Leonard & Papalewis, 1987; Shakesshaft 1981). Many key decision makers in the superintendent selection are prone to concentrate on individual qualities, while ignoring or not understanding external barriers faced by women and minorities. Studies of female superintendents reveal that they often differ in their perceptions of career barriers and they use different approaches for dealing with them (Kowalski, 2006).
Other factors also point to the unique experiences of minorities and women. Studies have found that women and minorities reach the superintendency via various career paths. In fact women have exhibited a greater range of strategies than have males in seeking the superintendency (Pavan, 1995). More over minority and female candidates have been expected to be better educated and more experienced than other applicants, pointing to the need for them to earn advanced degrees and to gain experience in a wide variety of settings (Jackson & Shakeshaft, 2003).
Collectively, the prevalence of career barriers, various strategies for dealing with them, alternative routes to the superintendency, higher expectations related to qualifications, and common search procedures demonstrate why engaging in career planning during the early stages of professional practice is especially important for women and minorities (Dopp & Sloan, 1986). Career plans can be especially helpful in relation to considering mentoring, sponsorship, and networking. Mentors provide encouragement, help build confidence, and demonstrate friendship, mutual trust, and advice related to career development; networks are formal or informal connections to individuals who may provide information or direct assistance in career development (Funk, 1986). Although mentoring and sponsorship have been widely advocated and despite the fact that 77% of male superintendents and 88% of female superintendents report having had a mentor, female and minority administrators seeking to superintendents often are at a disadvantage because they lack this support (Tallerico, 2000).

Women and role conception Of our nation’s 13,728 superintendents, 1,984 are women. Yet 72 percent of all K-12 educators in this country are women, according to the U.S. Department of Education (Glass, 2000). Although studies of women superintendents have greatly increased over the past 15 years, relatively little national-level information has been available. Targeted studies have revealed information about women’s leadership styles, career paths, barriers that deter them from becoming superintendents, and other important information. However we do not know how women across the nation conceptualize the role the superintendent (Grogan and Brunner, 2005). Women’s conceptualization of the role of superintendent fall within a range that can be referred to as “normative,” or within the range of the norms that have been established by men. Even recent studies confirm the fact that the overwhelming majority of superintendents always been men. (Glass, Bjork, & Brunner, 2000); thus, the norms or normative standards for the have been established norms. However, there is more to the story. Although similar to those of men, women’s conceptions of their role in the superintendency so include important nuances and noteworthy differences. In part these differences are grounded in gender specific socialization, a recognized and thoroughly researched phenomenon that has resulted in women’s career paths and other experiential variations (Glass, Bjork, & Brunner, 2000).
Women usually spend longer time in the classroom before becoming school administrators. Most women superintendents spend more than 10 years in the classroom. This highlights an experience that result in women attending to more closely to matters of instruction and learning (Lunenberg & Ornstien, 1991). In addition the study revealed that 58% of women superintendents majored in education in their under graduate degrees. Women superintendents are more up-to-date in their academic preparation for the position. In the past 10 years, 36% of men earned their highest degree compared with 47% of women. Moreover, 42% of male superintendents earned their highest degree 156 or more years ago. Women superintendents also report more professional development activities in the field of curriculum and instruction. Seventy-three percent of women, compared with 39% of men participated in ASCD-sponsored activities. Ten percent more women superintendents than men rate educational research as highly useful or usually useful. The gender related variations in experience suggest the following. First, women’s view of the role is likely to be somewhat different from men’s view. Second, if the superintendency were dominated by women, the normative conceptions of the role would likely be some what different in intent and focus (Glass, Bjork, & Brunner, 2000).
The difference among men and women superintendents are more pronounced when we consider preparation for the position. Significantly more women superintendents than men held undergraduate degrees in education: 58% of men compared to 24% of women. Women also spent more time in the classroom (Grogan and Brunner, 2005). Women have a better chance of being hired through a professional search firm than men. African American women do not obtain superintendencies as quickly as their white counterparts: 56% of African American Women were hired within the first five years of actively seeking superintendency compared to more than 70% of white women.
Although sometimes cited as a disadvantage, familiarity with elementary level experience as teacher, principal and often central-office supervisor for elementary education actually prepares superintendents well. For example, they often are more knowledgeable about the fundamental instructional issues of literacy and numeracy—important considerations if superintendents are expected to be instructional leaders. They also have more experience working with diverse communities of parents and other caretakers who are more involved at the elementary school level than any other level (Grogan & Brunner, 2005).
Women have not been traditionally been considered seriously for the superintendency. Coursework in higher education is still based primarily on the traditional male model of leadership, which has stressed managerial efficiency over instruction and community engagement. And unlike men, women are not often encouraged to think of the superintendency as a career goal (Grogan & Brunner, 2005). As more women serve as superintendents in more districts, school boards may consider women superintendents less of an anomaly, especially as women take on their second and third superintendencies. School boards have started to view women with backgrounds in curriculum and instruction as candidates. As more teachers and administrators work with women superintendents, women are seen more often as role models (Grogan & Brunner, 2005).

Minority Role Conception
Superintendents of color, as most superintendents of today, are challenged by a plethora of what seems to be insurmountable responsibilities, including the management and implementation of such federally mandated policies as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). However, superintendents of color are confronted with at least three additional barriers: (1) problems precipitated by race (including access to the superintendency), (2) the economic and social deterioration of the districts that they inherit, and (3) difficulty in accessing the necessary political and social power relationship needed to reform their districts. Given that the largest percentage of superintendents of color are appointed to urban , high-poverty, minority districts and / or predominately minority small towns, superintendents or color are placed at the helm of being or becoming America’s most challenged leaders of our time( Simmons, 2005). As recently as November 2001, the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) reported 292 African American superintendents in its Directory of African American Superintendents. This number represents 1.8% of the more than 14,000 superintendents throughout the United States. Together, African American superintendents are responsible for more than 14,500,000 public school students and have control of more the $21 billion dollars. During that same reporting period, NABSE noted that there were 18 states without African American superintendents – an indication of a decline in the number of African American superintendents during the past three years. Interestingly, there is an increase in the numbers for white and Hispanic superintendents who have taken recent leadership in urban districts (Simmons, 2005).
Scott (1980) predicted that increases in minority superintendent numbers were likely to take shape as follows:
“Black superintendents will never be as large as the number of Caucasian superintendents, but there will be an increase. This increase in Black superintendents will occur in cities with problems that Caucasian superintendents will not want to deal with and in which no assertive affirmative action efforts will be need to justify selecting a Black superintendent (Scott, 1980).”

Barriers for Women Superintendents

Some major barriers women encounter in pursuing the position of superintendent involve marriage and family obligations. Other formidable barriers are lack of mobility, time demands, and sex-role stereotyping (Chase & Bell, 1994). Barriers most commonly reported as an important factor inhibiting women’s career opportunities are lack of mobility of family members, perception of school board members that women are not strong managers, perception of school board members that women are unqualified to handle budgeting and finances and the perception that women will allow there emotions to influence administrative decisions (Grogan & Brunner). More women in 2003 than in 2000 perceived these four items to be important barriers; however, the responses in 2000 and 2003 were similar. What is curious about these perceptions is that more women viewed three of them as barriers. One possible explanation is that they acknowledge the existence of barriers but are prepared to overcome them. The willingness to take steps to break down such barriers might accompany a strong desire to reach the goal, no matter what obstacles exist. Although sometimes cited as a disadvantage, familiarity with elementary –level experience as teacher, principal and often central-office supervisor for elementary education actually prepares superintendents well. For example, they often are more knowledgeable about the fundamental instructional issues of literacy and numeracy—important considerations if superintendents are expected to be instructional leaders. They also have more experience working with diverse communities of parents and other caretakers who are more involved at the elementary school level than any other level (Grogan2005). T. Glass States;
“Women are destined to rule the schools of every city. In the near future we will have more women than men in the executive charge of the vast educational system. It is a women’s natural field, and she is no longer to do. The greatest part of the work and yet be denied leadership. It will be my aim to prove that no mistake has been made and to show critics and friends alike that a women is better qualified for this work than a man (Glass, 2000).

Success in the superintendency or career mobility can be attributed to the social capital that women have in their community. The superintendency can be attained through extensive networking in a community when the ethnicity of a leader and the community are similar-both influenced by similar culture and life experiences. Where ethnicity is a mismatch, Hispanic women, as leaders, do not neatly fit the expectations of the organization, and it is difficult to break the barrier of prejudice that permeated the system (Melendez, 1996).
White women superintendents and women superintendents of color believe theirs boards hired them to be instructional leaders and community leaders. In addition, African American women superintendents say they were hired as change agents and reformist

Barriers minority superintendents face The history and emergence of superintendents of color is a phenomenon that exists outside of the realm of traditional superintendent-preparation programs. Because early superintendents of color were excluded from the traditional preparation programs, they emerged in a separate and distinctly different context from that of their whiter counter parts. Historical information on Asian American, Hispanic American, and Native American superintendents is very difficult to obtain due to the fact that their numbers have been low or nonexistence. Yet it is because of the many social and political circumstances that affect today’s American public schools (Simmons 2005). Although the 50 years that have followed the Brown versus Board of Topeka, Kansas case (!954) began with hopeful increases in the numbers of superintendents of color who were appointed to school districts, recent data (CGCS, 2003, 2004; NABSE, 2001) indicate a sudden decline in the numbers of superintendents of color. It is thought that with substantial increase in the salaries of urban superintendents during the pasty few years, more non-minorities have been motivated to seek superintendencies in the once “undesirable” urban centers. With this in mind, aspiring superintendents of color are encouraged to develop the necessary political savvy to transcend the racial and ethnic redlining with social and political organizations that have influence and power (Simmons, 2005). Hispanic superintendents who move rapidly toward the superintendency plan to attain this leadership role, prepare themselves professionally for the position, and apply for the superintendency at an earlier age. For Hispanic women, mentorship and sponsored mobility create more opportunities. Role models, especially same-sex ones, become significant in the formation of expectations Hispanic women in superintendency positions are greatly absent; consequently mentors and role models are scarce (Quilantan & Menchaca-Ocha, 2004).
Women develop coping skills-listening, collaborating, and regard for others throughout their careers. At the same time, they avoided positioning themselves in situations they believe they could not navigate (Quilantan & Menchaca-Ocha, 2004). Women keep a clear focus on long term goals without losing the concept of self- identity. Women experience success in their administrative positions, which increased their confidence, expectations, and goals. Once they realize that they could master the duties of their positions, they continued to excel in their school districts until they proved to others that they worthy of being appointed superintendents. Outperforming others was a characteristic that was present in all women; and they felt that because they were female, they had to go beyond the expectations of others. They redefined themselves to meet their own expectations. Displaying professional competence entailed – earning degrees, certifications, amassing work experiences, outperforming others, demonstrating organizational skills, and mentoring (Quilantan & Menchaca-Ocha, 2004). Perhaps the most intriguing difference between the white population of superintendents and their counterparts of color were their reported political leanings. Women leaders of color in both populations describe themselves as more politically liberal than their counterparts. And a strong majority of women leaders of color consider themselves to be democrats. However white women superintendents describe themselves as liberal nearly three times as often as white men serving in the same role (Grogan & Brunner, 2004) Although the representation of people of color in the superintendency remains shamefully small, it has increased since 1980. For example, in 1980, 2.1% of those serving in the position were in this demographic group. Representation increased to 3.9% in 1992, however nearly half of these superintendents served in urban areas with more than 50.000 students (Glass, 1992). The most recent national study, 5% of superintendents were people of color: 2.2% African American, 1.4% Hispanic, 0.8% Native American, 0.2% Asian American, and 0.5% Other. The modal placements of superintendents of color are large/urban or small town rural districts (Glass, 2000). The percentage of superintendents classified as racial and ethnic minorities increased by 31% between 1990 and 1999, many practitioners in this demographic group are concerned that the rate may plateau or decline if their presence in preparation programs decline (Bjork, 1996). Increasing the number of minority candidates for the superintendency becomes more likely if there are more minority teachers, principals, and central office staff. Increasing representation, however, has been affected by competition from other professions; Doors open to more lucrative professions for women and people of color (Kowalski, 2003).
Women and minority superintendents and the achievement gap
Superintendents fell that they can make a difference in their communities by setting direction, becoming a part of the district’s progress and building a team of educators to improve teaching and learning. They believe they can apply their skills in the superintendency, possibly more than was possible in other educational positions they have held. And they like the fact that they have daily challenges in their jobs (Sharp, Malone & Walter). The results of current studies reveal strong emphasis on women superintendents as instructional leaders with expertise in curriculum and instruction. Other studies have found the superintendents, men and women, conceive of themselves as instructional leaders (Petersen & Barnett, 2005), which is a modern version of the teacher-scholar role conception. The fact that women superintendents bring more education related academic preparation to the position reinforces the notion of an evolved teacher-scholar or instructional leader. When compared with other conceptions of the superintendency such as managerial or political leader, the majority of women reported that their school board’s primary expectation of them was to be an educational leader (Grogan & Brunner, 2005).


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Bjork, L.G.; Glass, T.E.; Brunner C.C., (2005). Characteristics of American school superintendents. Contemporary Education, (2), 19-20.
Bjork, L.G.; Glass, T.E., (2003). The superintendent shortage: Findings from research on school board presidents. Journal of School Leadership, 13(3)3, 264-287
Cambron-McCabe, N.; Cunnining L.L.; Harvey J.; Koff, R.H. Addressing race and class.The Superintendents’s Fieldbook. 5, 167-168
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Fuller, H.L. ; Cambell, C. ; Celio, M. B.; Harvey, J.; Immerwaher, J.; Winger, A. (2003). An Impossible job? The view from the urban superintendent’s chair. Center on Reinventing Public Education. 9-11
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Kowalski, T.J. (2000). Cultural change paradigms and administrator communication. Contemporary Education, 71(2), 5-10.
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Scott, H.J. (1990). Views of Black superintendents on black coconsciousness and professionalism. Journal of Negro Education. 59(2) 165-172.
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Women and Minorities in Law Enforcement

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