Women working: Education a growth career for women

The gender gap between male and female school superintendents is narrowing – albeit slowly – according to a 10-year study by the American Association of School Administrators.

There are about four times as many females in these leadership roles as there were in 1992.

Recently, a search for the next superintendent of Warren Local Schools attracted 18 applicants; however, none were women. The local area has seen women in school leadership positions, though. Longtime educator Dora Jean Bumgarner just stepped down as interim superintendent of Caldwell Exempted Village Schools after a career as superintendent in several districts and Stephanie Starcher will move from being the Barlow-Vincent Elementary principal to Fort Frye superintendent beginning Aug. 1.

Lori Snyder-Lowe, current superintendent of Morgan Local Schools, has been with the school system for more than seven years and she took time recently to answer a few questions about her career, her students and what advice she would give to other women pursuing a job as a school administrator.

Question: Why did you decide to go into education and, specifically, to become a school administrator? What did you do before becoming Morgan Local Superintendent?

Answer: I have always worked with children from my early start as a babysitter to a swimming instructor and coach, so it was a natural progression to move into education where I could work full-time with children.

Moving into school administration was a difficult decision because I absolutely loved teaching. However, I had previous administrative experience from my work at the Ohio Department of Transportation and an associate degree in finance and business from Hocking College and that knowledge base aided me in my move to administration. Before becoming superintendent, I was the assistant superintendent at Morgan and prior to that, I was the principal of Morgan Junior High School.

Q: What type of education is necessary to become a superintendent and as you were preparing for your career, did you notice any backlash or do you remember any specific obstacles that you had to overcome, being a woman in a mostly male-dominated field?

A: Superintendents must have a masters in educational administration plus additional course work at the doctoral level in administration and pass a licensure test. Most superintendents also earned bachelor’s in education or an education field. I do not recall any major obstacles in achieving my goal of superintendent licensure.

Q: Do you feel that there has been a shift in the numbers of women versus men who are filling superintendent positions?

A: In the past three to five years, I have seen an increase in the number of females entering the superintendency. However, female superintendents are still in the minority by a large number. Administration requires many hours of night time and weekend work – from actual activities such as band concerts, football games – to dealing with emergencies such as water line breaks or buildings being vandalized. Personally, I feel very lucky in regard to the enormous time commitment of this position, because my family is very supportive and understanding.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing Ohio schools and what do you feel your role is in helping to overcome these issues?

A: I feel the most immediate and pressing challenge is HB 59, the state budget bill. This legislation will guide school funding for at least the next two years. Unfortunately, 40 percent of the state’s poorest schools are left without additional funding (and some may even see a loss in funding) over the next biennium, which causes great concern for all of us in southeast Ohio. As a superintendent of a high poverty district and as the president of the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools, I have been outspoken in my support of high poverty districts and the need for additional funding to stabilize our districts and to give our children more educational opportunities. I feel it is the responsibility of every superintendent to advocate for their districts and for improving the educational opportunities for all children in Ohio.

Q: Would you encourage more women to become school administrators? What should young women be doing now to prepare themselves to enter this field, should they so choose?

A: I highly recommend that females consider a career in education. Public education is making great strides in helping all students achieve their highest potential and that if you have a passion for helping others and working with young people, public education is the place to be.

It is very important to seek all the education you can, specifically advanced degrees in content areas such as math and science. If administration is a goal, working inside and outside the education environment is important so that aspiring administrators have a good business and education background to bring to the principalship or superintendency. I truly believe that my business/administrative background has helped me better understand the operational side of the school district, while my educational experience has been vital in my day-to-day decision making for curriculum and staffing needs.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of your job? What do you find most rewarding?

A: The most difficult aspect of my job is dealing with staff issues that are of a disciplinary nature. The most rewarding side is by far seeing students achieve their highest potential. Our high school graduation, our annual scholarship program, quarterly awards ceremonies, and all student achievements (from athletic accomplishments to band concerts, to test scores and report cards) make me proud to serve the students, staff and community at Morgan Local School District.