I started my final day of the NCE in a session focused on empowering women leaders. When I became a superintendent 18 years ago, I was usually the only female in the room. I believe there were six others currently in the position in the state of VT at the time. Now, while VT is a small state, for sure, that is still a mighty low number. I recall being told by a community leader that I would not get the job because I am female. I remember being told I was not “charismatic” enough (code for not enough testosterone). Yet, I was encouraged by my predecessor, a male superintendent who had helped at least one other female enter the profession as well. He mentored me, took me to superintendent meetings, handed me the AASA School Administrator magazine and told me to join the association and attend the conferences. Many other male superintendents in my region also rallied around me and supported my journey. But the thing is- I went for it. Like it or not, I was in the position as Superintendent and by golly, I was not doing it half way! Then, about seven years into my first superintendency, as the number of female superintendents was growing, a colleague reached out to me and three other female superintendents and suggested we get together for dinner and drinks regularly. What began around 2012 is now a tight knit circle of friends. We have laughed together, cried together, changed jobs and commiserated on board meetings together. We are a Sister Circle- strong and proud. Thank you to Zandra Jo Galvån, Dr. Maria Armstrong, and Lupita Hightower for bringing Sister Circles to the NCE. The reality is that females experience the superintendency in a different way than males, not a bad thing but a thing, none the less. Relying on each other for support is a very empowering act of leadership.
Leaving the conference, we took a Lyft to the airport. The driver, Chris, asked if we were here for the dentist conference or the superintendent conference. We did not hesitate in our answer! Turns out Chris is a licensed teacher, IT director, principal and Chief of Staff who burned out in the field and is now driving a Lyft. Covid was the final straw when he was one step away from being a superintendent. Yet the passion is still there. You can hear it in his stories of turn-around schools, of building relationships with teachers and kids, of modeling teaching for new teachers and bringing them along to be the best we can be. It was delightful to talk with him, yet sad to know that politics in education is driving away the best of our teachers. The final Keynote Speaker Sue Szachowicz spoke of the difficulty of hiring teachers now, of the last minute August hires that she, and so many of us, call ODGs (Oh Dear God) as we swoop in to help provide the skills and support needed to be successful. As the nation speaks of private school tuition, of banning library books and whitewashing curriculum, as teachers face threats to their very lives when they come to work and job loss if they allow students to know their sexual orientation, we are on a precipice holding our breath.
Despite the precipice, I am heartened by spending four days with colleagues who are committed, who are fighting the good fight for our students every day, who put themselves out in front to lead, even in the dark at times, and are doing it well. I bow down to each of these leaders and hold hope that out of the precipice will be a newer, BETTER, education system for our children.
See you next year at NCE in San Diego!