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Focus on Learning

Conference attendees gathered to bridge gap in leadership disparity

More women leaders needed

From the Office of Communications at University of Houston-Clear Lake

October 2, 2007

Today women make up more than 80 percent of elementary school teachers, yet only 18 percent of school districts are headed by women, and the percentage of African-American and Hispanic women in educational leadership positions is far lower. Margaret Grogan, professor and chair of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia, delivered these startling statistics at the University of Houston Clear Lake’s School of Education ’s first Women in Leadership Conference.

Addressing approximately 90 women and men at the one-day seminar, Grogan applauded steps made by women in the last 15 years, but noted, “They are only steps.”

“Women and men in positions of power must deliberately mentor more women and especially more women of color,” Grogan emphasized.

Women bring critical perspectives and valuable skills to leadership positions, she told the group. Research has shown that women in leadership place a greater emphasis on improving the educational system then their male counterparts. School boards more often look to women as leaders in educational reform since many women come to leadership with a background in classroom teaching. They bring with them a greater knowledge of teaching and learning, as well as curriculum. In addition, women are found to have stronger interpersonal skills and show more responsiveness toward parents and community groups, further strengthening their effectiveness as educational leaders.

Grogan also shared what she felt were important “next steps” in helping narrow the gender gap. Women must be encouraged to take on the challenge of leadership within the educational system. Women already in leadership positions must speak out about the satisfaction and joy they derive from their work. Also, pre-service women teachers must be directed towards leadership as a way to remain close to teaching and learning.

Joining Grogan as conference speakers were Juanita Simmons, also of the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Sophia Jones-Redmond of Northern Illinois University.

“Don’t just respond to change – create the change,” Simmons said, challenging participants to reach out to women both as mentors and peers and to share information, resources and success.

The conference was organized by UH-Clear Lake faculty to help facilitate mentoring between school administrators and students enrolled in the university’s educational programs, especially emerging majorities such as Hispanics. While networking and mentoring organizations are in place at the state and national level, there is no such representation specific to the Gulf Coast area. They plan to make it an annual event.

Attended by a broad spectrum of individuals within the educational system, participants included undergraduate students, classroom teachers and school administrators, and attracted participants from as far away as Beaumont, as well as outlying schools in the Houston area such as Cy-Fair and Fort Bend County .

Response among the participants was positive.

“Inspiring …I never envisioned a woman as superintendent,” UH-Clear Lake graduate student Melody Maxon said. “I plan to be here next year.”

Middle school principal Carol Batiste drove from Beaumont to attend.

“It was a great opportunity to build more relationships,” Batiste said.

Cy-Fair Academic Achievement Specialist Antwanette Hill added she will recommend the conference next year to others. “I think about how many people would have benefited so greatly from being here,” Hill said.

Conference Program Coordinator Christa Boske, UH-Clear Lake assistant professor administration and supervision, expressed satisfaction with the inaugural event.

“It was a significant and successful first step,” Boske said. “It accomplished all we had envisioned and more. Our program speakers – prominent figures in the field of educational leadership – united the students, administrators and instructors into a community with a sense of promise, hope and excitement. ”

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