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Retirement May Weigh on Efforts to Diversify District Superintendency

The aging pool of American superintendents may both disproportionately skew against women and provide an unprecedented opportunity to bring more gender equity to the top district post, suggests data from a new report in the Study of the American Superintendent, a project by the the School Superintendents Association.

The report, a mid-decade update on an ongoing project by the group, included a national sample of 845 district leaders in 2015—less than half those who participated in the project's 2010 study—but their responses continued many of the same trends seen five years ago. The district leaders continue to age, with nearly 1 in 3 reporting plans to retire in the next five years, and a majority reporting high job stress.Men and women alike reported political tensions were far and away the most common roadblock to their work.

Women made up less than one-third of district superintendents in the study. They were older on average than their male counterparts and also more likely to have taken on the superintendency later in their careers, AASA found. Moreover, women were 2 percent more likely than men to say they would not choose to be superintendents again. 

All that could mean the existing gender gap in district leadership could widen as more superintendents reach retirement age. However, the study also suggested that women seem to enter the superintendency differently than men, in ways that school boards could shift to achieve more parity among district leaders. 

For example, while the path to superintendent for both men and women tended to run from teaching to being a principal to the central office and from there up, women were more likely than men to say they changed districts to get the top post, AASA found. While women reported being hired for skills in curriculum and instructional leadership, men reported their personal characteristics won them the job. 

The study also found women in the top district post were significantly more likely to be divorced and less likely to be married or have a partner, a finding AASA noted "suggests the price that might be paid by the career choice for women."

Only members have access to the full data tables, but they are a meaty read if you want to dig in here.


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