Oct. 14, 2022
Although women are the backbone of America’s public schools – they hold more than 75% of all teaching jobs as well as most school-level administration positions like principal and assistant principal — nearly 80% of those in a district’s top job are men.
There’s really no good reason for it, experts say, since federal data show that women earn around two-thirds of all leadership degrees in education. It really boils down to societal and structural reasons, including stereotypes about male chief executives, biases about the capabilities of women, and perceived conflicts in balancing family responsibilities with the demands of senior leadership roles, according to Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders.
A district’s superintendent essentially acts as the chief executive officer of the school system. And it’s a role held predominantly by white men.
“The extreme underrepresentation of women – especially women of color – in district superintendent and statewide education leadership roles in a gut punch and a call to action for all of us,” said Julia Rafal-Baer, managing partner of women-owned education policy firm ILO Group and former chief operating officer for Chiefs for Change.
Now, Chiefs for Change has announced that Barbara Jenkins — one of the longest-serving and most well-respected female school superintendents — will lead its Women in Leadership initiative.
“I have mentored phenomenal women and men leaders. Women who are equally capable often still do not receive equal pay or equal respect,” Jenkins said. “I’m proud that Chiefs for Change offers programming specifically for women in leadership. My goal is to ensure that our women chiefs continue to have a strong peer network of support and the opportunity to learn from those who know the role.”
Jenkins retired earlier this year as superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla., the nation’s ninth-largest school system. She was the first female superintendent in the district, a role she served in for a decade. She worked in the school district for 30 years.
Jenkins has been a member of Chiefs for Change since 2016 and has coached and mentored dozens of members of the Future Chiefs leadership development program in that time.
“Anyone who takes on the role of superintendent has to work exceptionally hard and demonstrate that they are capable not just on the instructional side but on the business side,” Jenkins said. “In many ways, running a school district is like being the CEO of a major corporation. Leaders must invest the time, the effort and the continual learning to be at the top of their trade – and in our case, to provide students the education they need for a bright future.”