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Number of female school administrators increasing

August 15, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

While women have long dominated the teaching profession, females are fewer at the school administration level. But that is slowly changing.

Washington County Schools had 63 principals, including assistants, five years ago. Of those, 19 were women, making the workforce 30 percent female. This year, 44 percent of principals (31 of 71) are women.

Reasons for the longtime disparity and the gradual rise are not obvious. Several local female principals say discrimination is not an issue. Some credit cultural changes for advancing careers.

"I think we've still got some catching up to do," said Donna Newcomer-Coble, Washington County Board of Education supervisor of human resources and teacher personnel.

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The School Board is attuned to race and gender, but it doesn't necessarily hire for those qualities, according to Newcomer-Coble. "Obviously, the thing we always try to let drive us is finding a quality individual," she said.

"They are probably getting the best candidates, whether they are men or women," said Nancy J. Martin, principal of Potomac Heights Elementary School. "I've always felt I've been treated the same as men by the administration."

Martin, an educator for 37 years, started out as an elementary teacher. After 10 years, she became a vice principal and two years later moved up to principal. In 1985, she got her Ph.D. "It looks to me like more women are pursuing areas they didn't before," she said.

Ten years ago, it was less common for women to have a family and a career, Martin said. "I think now they're doing both, and I think that's great."

According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, a dramatic gender shift occurred in the 1990s. In 1988, only 20 percent of the nation's middle and elementary school principals were female. In 1998 there were 42 percent.

The association also found 88 percent of the nation's school superintendents are male. In Maryland, five of 24 jurisdictions have female superintendents. Washington County has never had a female superintendent.

But the county has been progressive, according to School Board member B. Marie Byers. "We have had lady administrators for a long time," she said. "But they have increased of late."

At upper levels, there is less change. Five years ago, two of the School Board's eight directors were women. Today, two of nine are, dropping the percentage from 28 to 25.

The percentage has remained almost constant at the supervisory level for the past five years. In 1996, seven of 16 were women. Now eight of 19 are.

The growing number of female administrators reflects a cultural change, according to Linda Barkdoll, Frederick County Schools executive director of human resources.

Barkdoll served as interim schools superintendent in Washington County from June to October in 1997. She moved up locally through the ranks from teacher to principal to supervisor and director.

"I've never felt there was a gender disparity," she said. "I've always felt leadership of quality people was encouraged. I don't think gender was an issue."

Barkdoll believes more families have both spouses employed professionally. The increased number of women in administration is a natural evolution, she said, and education mirrors societal trends.

"More women are emerging in leadership roles," she said.

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