Against all odds: the district of women heading the superintendency
October 2, 2019
The women of D95 are defying odds by filling the roles of superintendent, assistant superintendents, and the majority of the cabinet in a significantly male-dominated field.
In the U.S., 72 percent of all K-12 educators are women, but of the nation’s 13,728 superintendents, just 1,984 are women, according to the School Superintendents Association (AASA).
“I have actually never worked in a place where that many women existed at the cabinet level,” Kelley Gallt, superintendent, said. “Typically, it has been either myself or maybe one other female who has served on the cabinet-level, but that’s it. It has been typically dominated by men.”
But in Lake Zurich, things are different.
“You know what, I think it’s actually strange because I have never ever felt as though I couldn’t have the opportunity to be a superintendent,” Gallt said. “Every person that I have worked with or worked for has been so encouraging that it never seemed like it was going to be impossible [even though] those numbers would indicate [otherwise]. So that is something unique, I would say, to Lake Zurich.”
Gallt works with female assistant superintendents, interim assistant superintendents, and a cabinet almost completely comprised of women. In this unique district, there are plenty of voices to be heard about the lack of women in the Superintendency, including that of Linda Klobucher, interim assistant superintendent.
“I have worked for 12 superintendents over the course of my career and only three have been females, so my data parallels the data from AASA,” Klobucher said. “I believe there are many reasons for the gap, but I do not believe it is due to a lack of leadership ability in females.”
Vicki Cullinan, assistant superintendent, agrees the gap stems from a different source and holds traditional gender roles responsible. On average, women spend about 28.4 hours a week on unpaid childcare and household labor (twice the amount men spend), according to cnbc.com, and Cullinan says it is “a challenge to be a parent and meet the work commitments of a school administrator.” However, a shift in these trends may be in the works.
“There is a large gap at higher levels of leadership in school districts, [but] I think a lot has changed,” Susan Coleman, assistant superintendent, said. “More and more women are seeking and obtaining district leadership positions, including the superintendent position, [but] when I began my career over two decades ago, women were [just] considered for elementary principals. Middle and high school principals were men. Because of that, the trajectory for the superintendency may have been more difficult for women.”
The two most commonly cited reasons for a lack of women in the superintendency are that they are discouraged from pursuing the role, and school boards will not hire them, according to AASA. But, like Gallt, Cullinan, Klobucher, and Coleman have had uplifting experiences pursuing the superintendency.
“I was fortunate enough to have strong female mentors in leadership that helped guide my pursuits,” Coleman said. “These amazing women supported my goals and helped to create a network of female colleagues I connect with to this day.”
Gallt believes having so many women in the superintendency in Lake Zurich is creating a positive impact on the community, particularly with her own uplifting experience.
“It definitely lets our female students and our females in the community know that we believe, as a community, that you find the right person for positions, it’s not necessarily about gender,” Gallt said. “I feel so fortunate that that’s always been my experience, [and] I want other people to have that same experience that I had, which was so positive and so empowering; I want our young girls to feel as though they can do it, too.”
To women pursuing the superintendency, whether in an inclusive community like LZ or in a battle against overwhelming odds, Gallt has one thing to say.
“As somebody really, really smart once told me, it is okay to lead with your heart and your head,” Gallt said. “You do not need to separate the two, you can lead with both.”