At a concurrent session on “Gender, Race, Ethnicity and School District Composition,” AASA conference attendees on Thursday learned about trends showing school districts were filling openings for superintendent vacancies previously led by women with a male at the start of the pandemic, yet the reasons for this are much less clear.
An AASA survey of nearly 250 leaders taken just before the pandemic revealed fewer than a third of the country’s largest districts were led by women. But as more women left executive roles, they were being replaced disproportionately by men.
At that time, results indicate 51 of the 187 districts that had a pandemic-era transition were previously led by women. Out of those 51 districts, 76 percent replaced their female superintendent with a male.
Margaret Grogan, a professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. presented the survey with Angel Miles Nash, another professor at Chapman at the conference session. They drew many of the findings from the 2020 AASA decennial study of the superintendency.
In more recent studies that presenters Suzette Lovely, retired superintendent of Capistrano Unified School District in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Candace Singh, superintendent of Fallbrook Union Elementary School District in Fallbrook, Calif., referenced surveys indicating nearly one out of five of the largest school districts in the United States have had a change of leadership, and 70 percent of newly appointed superintendents have been male. Many survey findings suggest that women do not get to leadership positions due to a lack of confidence and connections.
An interesting finding is that women of color are hired by boards because they are seen for their value as agents of change rather than for their ability to maintain the status quo. The facts also show women of color serve all kinds of districts around the country and disproportionately serve urban districts and districts serving more than 50,000 students. This indicates women are taking on highly challenging positions.
“Talent is in the room, in the schools, in classrooms, but it needs to be nurtured,” Grogan said in response to an audience member’s question of how to locate more women of color to hire.
A strategy that supports women in leadership positions is to energize and encourage. Providing support to women in schools can be as simple as contacting them and telling them they would be a perfect fit for a leadership position was mentioned as a great first step by panelists.
When aspiring leaders were asked how ready they are to lead conversations about race, they expressed readiness, Grogan said. Only five out of 43 said they were not ready to lead that conversation.
(Roman Nikolaev is a reporting intern for Conference Daily Online and a junior English and secondary education major at Vanderbilt University.)