November 30, 2023
Over the past few decades, women have actively advanced into leadership roles across many industries, including state education agencies. These women have not only forged new leadership pathways and provided mentorship for others but also delivered substantial benefits to the overall advancement of their agencies. Extensive research affirms the value of women’s leadership in the workplace, as they bring unique perspectives and excel as crisis managers.
The leaders of twenty-eight state education agencies are women, with seventeen of these leaders newly appointed or elected this year. However, since January, three of these leaders have resigned – less than six months after assuming office.
Despite forward momentum, alarming attrition rates remain a concern.
Recognizing the challenges women leaders face, The Hunt Institute seized an opportunity to bring together state education executives and provide them with a dedicated platform for professional development, personal growth, and open dialogues about navigating professional and gender-based biases.
From September 25-27, 2023, The Hunt Institute and SAS Institute co-hosted the inaugural Women’s State Education Leaders Retreat, co-chaired by State Superintendent of North Dakota, Kirsten Baesler, State Superintendent of Washington, D.C., Dr. Christina Grant, and State Superintendent of North Carolina, Catherine Truitt. Over three days, thirteen state education executives came together in bi-partisan spirit to explore collaboration and success strategies in traditionally male-dominated spaces.
The retreat opened with keynote speaker, Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners. She presented findings from The Hunt Institute’s Across the Aisle survey and emphasized how public officials can serve their constituents’ interests and priorities in education. Lake underscored voters’ values – including the importance of students gaining work-based experiences, achieving grade-level reading proficiency, accessing mental health services, and the urgent need to address physical violence and bullying in schools.
On the second day, Dr. Marguerite Roza, Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University and Denise Forte, President of The Ed Trust discussed the looming fiscal cliff and its potential impacts. They advised state education executives can begin strategically preparing their districts while preparing their most vulnerable districts from being disproportionately impacted by budget cuts. These experts urged leaders to allocate remaining Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to accelerate learning, especially for students from lower income backgrounds to achieve academic growth.
The final day explored the nuanced challenges and scrutiny women leaders encounter in the media. Attendees were provided with best practices and strategies to build rapport with reporters and journalists both locally and nationwide. Moreover, leaders learned essential communication tactics for effectively navigating negative, sensationalized news coverage.
Throughout the retreat, state education leaders spent time together in small groups discussing how to tackle common challenges and navigate these obstacles with collective wisdom. The leaders expressed deep appreciation for the retreat and the collaborative, nonpartisan environment it fostered.
The Hunt Institute looks forward to building upon this model and strengthening a shared commitment to shattering barriers and paving the way for a more equitable and inclusive era in education.