Despite Ella Flagg Young's positive outlook for women achieving the superintendency, stating in 1909 that "women are destined to rule the schools of every city" (as cited in Keller, 1999, ¶53), women have never dominated the top position in America's public school systems (Violette, 2006). Though women largely outnumber men as classroom teachers, men continue to lead more school systems (Shakeshaft, 1989; Glass, 2000; Grogan and Brunner, 2005). The Census Bureau similarly characterized the position of superintendent of schools in the United States as the most male-dominated executive position of any profession (Sharp, Malone, Walter, and Supley, 2000).
While research exists that seeks to identify barriers that women in leadership positions in schools face, little or no research goes beyond simply naming such barriers. The purpose of this study was to 1) identify differences in personal demographics and career paths of women superintendents in Ohio and the barriers they have experienced while attaining the superintendency, and 2) examine the district differences, personal demographics, and personal differences in knowledge, skills, and abilities and career path barriers of women superintendents in Ohio. A six-part, 46-item survey was developed for this research to capture the perceptions, practices, and backgrounds of a total population of Ohio women superintendents. Of the 120 women superintendents in Ohio who lead public city, local, and exempted village school districts, and career technical/JVSD and Educational Service Centers, 77 (64.2%) women completed and submitted the electronic survey.
The findings revealed in this study illustrate a renewed positive outlook. Women in Ohio encountered fewer family, career planning, gender discrimination/stereotyping, internal, external, and overall barriers when compared to past studies from other states and across the nation. Furthermore, more women in Ohio are accepting superintendent positions with increasingly younger children in their households. These women also possess varied and numerous characteristics, knowledge, skills, and abilities. Unlike previous studies, women who aspire to the superintendency no longer need to worry that their children, their characteristics, or their knowledge, skills, or abilities could prevent them reaching the top. Women in Ohio have managed to overcome many and various obstacles to the superintendency that, in other states, persist. What can be learned from their experiences and perceptions will, hopefully, pave the way for national progress and, eventually, fulfill Ella Flagg Young's prescient vision for the superintendency.