Professor pens how-to for women in educational leadership

Suzanne GilmourDr. Suzanne Gilmour of SUNY Oswego’s educational administration department hopes a new book she co-authored, “Succeeding as a Female Superintendent: How to Get There and Stay There,” helps shatter a glass ceiling at the top of the educational hierarchy.

While much of the training of administrators focuses on what not to do, Gilmour and co-author Mary Kinsella, chair of SUNY Cortland’s educational leadership department, saw a need to show women and minorities aspiring to top levels of administration—in education and elsewhere—how to reach their goals.

“In New York state, we’re still around the high 20s (percent) for women and unfortunately only around 3 percent for all persons of color” for top school administrators, said Gilmour, professor and chair of educational administration at Oswego. “That’s out of more than 760 school districts. We have a way to go, but it’s getting better.”

The initial seeds were planted several years ago when Gilmour and Kinsella worked on a project on mentoring future administrators. “We saw there was still a need for support for women and people of color to attain superintendent positions, and to retain them,” said Gilmour, who is also the executive director of the New York State Association for Women in Administration.

The book culls success stories from about 50 women administrators around the state plus the insights of the authors’ years of experience teaching, mentoring and running superintendent searches.

One thing that surprised the authors was how many different routes women took to the administrator’s office. The traditional method
of teacher to assistant principal to principal to superintendent still happens, but they also found people who came from different teaching or counseling backgrounds or outside of education.

“One woman had been a secretary to a superintendent and realized ‘I can do this,’ and went back and followed all the steps to becoming a superintendent,” Gilmour noted.

Published by Rowman and Littlefield Education, “Succeeding as a Female Superintendent” also covers networking, how to build and use contacts to learn about openings and gain support for winning the job.

Gilmour’s writing tapped the expertise built in Oswego’s educational administration program, which offers a widely recognized superintendent development certificate of advanced studies.

“It’s specifically designed to provide skills, contacts and whatever folks need to become a superintendent and succeed in the role,” she said, and the number of women in the program has increased.

Despite the low percentages, Gilmour sees a lot of support for increasing diversity in leadership positions through bodies like the New York State Association for Superintendents and New York School Boards Association. She said the authors recently gave a “well-received” book presentation at the American Association of School Administrators women’s leadership forum in Savannah, Ga.

Preparing more good candidates helps the whole education system because the superintendent job “is a tough one,” Gilmour acknowledged. “Sometimes it’s a challenge to ensure we find many candidates who are highly qualified.” Encouraging more women and minorities to pursue this path makes the candidate pool that much more robust, she said.

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(Posted: Nov 12, 2008)

Tags: research news: books and publications