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Better For Everyone


This summer, I was able to attend and even present at a few amazing professional events including the New York State Association of Woman Administrators Statewide conference, “Leading Forward,” the New York State School Board Association’s “Leadership in Education” conference, the New York State Council of School Superintendents annual Women’s Initiative Conference, and the 914th Air Reserve Women Influencing the Next Generation (WINGs) session at the Niagara Falls Air Force Base.

At each of these events, I was surrounded by leaders looking for inspiration and to inspire. I took pages of notes. I met new people and connected with folks I hadn’t seen in a while. The messages of support and empathy caused me to reflect, grow, and consider the world in ways I had not before.

Specifically, at the Women’s Initiative Conference, Sarah Hornung, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Innovation, and Pupil Services for Orchard Park Central School District, asked everyone in the room to stand up. Then, Hornung asked people to sit down if their superintendent’s name was Michael. Many people sat down. David. More people sat. John. More people sat. She read off seven more names and by the end, over half of the people in the room were seated. “Sit down if your superintendent is a man,” Hornung said to the audience. Only a handful of people (fewer than 10 in a room of 150-200 people) remained standing. Hornung confessed she didn’t know how this activity would play out, but she was not surprised since the names she read off were based on Rachel S. White’s research. As Emily Tata Sullivan chronicles in her article, “What Are the Odds Your Superintendent is Named Michael, John or David,” White stumbled across this phenomenon accidentally.

Several years ago, when Rachel S. White was compiling a list of every public school district superintendent in the country, she began to notice something peculiar.
As she flitted from one district website to the next, manually — and painstakingly — entering each superintendent’s first and last name into her database, White saw a pattern emerging.
“There were a lot of Marks and Scotts and Daves,” she says. “Those names kept coming up.”
Curious, she started to chart the first names of thousands upon thousands of these district leaders. It was “just for fun” at first, but has since evolved into a research project four years running.

It is shocking that the data are so consistent (click here to see an infographic of White’s results).

Here is another shocking piece of data. At the Leading Forward conference, recently retired Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent, Anita Murphy, asked everyone in the room to stand up if they “have ever been harmed by another woman professionally.” Nearly everyone in the room stood up. Murphy then asked the audience to remain standing if they could “name a woman who has helped you in your career.” Most women remained standing. Murphy’s point is that someone’s sex doesn’t determine their ability to harm or help, however, we can and should choose to be people who help others lead.

The last speakers that I will mention here were Bryna Moritz, the new Deputy Superintendent of Erie 2 BOCES and Jacinda (Jazz) Conboy, General Counsel at the New York State Council of School Superintendents (an amazing person who is an advocate for all). In their talk, “Negotiating: The Art of Successful Negotiations,” these dynamic women shared their experiences with negotiating. Mortiz was the Pine Valley Central School District Superintendent before leaving for her new position and she spoke about her experiences as a superintendent where she advocated for all of the staff in the district. For example, she managed to negotiate paid maternity leave that didn’t require employees to use their own time. For the first time, I realized superintendents have the ability to improve working conditions and open doors for others in a manner that goes beyond the direct benefit of the work in a single district. What Moritz did for her district set a new standard for what other school districts could aspire to. That was exciting to hear and provided me with a fresh perspective and possible motivation to rethink my own future pathway.

This past week I’ve been reading the book, Pandora’s Jar: Women in Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes, a book that a male coworker recommended to me. Though I am not someone who loved Greek mythology when I was younger, I appreciate it now more than ever. In her chapter on Amazons, Haynes writes about how to ancient Greeks, Amazon women were seen as equally fearsome and powerful as men. Our modern equivalents might be Wonder Woman, but Haynes includes others such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Using Buffy as an example of how the Amazons saw each other, Haynes writes about a culture of interdependence. When one woman is strong, she is able to bolster the strengths of all women.

The chosen one, is now the chosen many…She helps to train up many more young women to fight in her stead. The message is simple. Women are stronger together than apart. Even ones with superpowers…She may be uniquely talented…but she steps away from individual glory. Her status is not threatened by creating even more heroic women, quite the reverse. It is cemented. Amazons, even when one is exceptional, are a team, a tribe, a gang…An ensemble of women fighting to save us all.”

Though I am not a man. Though my name is not David or Michael or John. And though I have been harmed by women professionally, I have the opportunity to lift others–women and men. What’s more, I am not threatened by creating strong women–I am strengthened. After all, I can choose to be a member of an Amazon group of women and when we join together, we make things better for everyone.


P.S. My Catches of the Week are David O’Rourke, District Superintendent of Erie 2 BOCES and Jillian (Jill) O’Rourke, David’s daughter. While I applaud David’s work with NYSCOSS to champion the Women’s Initiative, that is not the main reason he is my Catch of the Week. I am honoring him because of his parental inspiration. Dr. O’Rourke is a dad of two daughters and he brought his youngest, Jill, to the conference. Jill, who is starting her freshman year of college this fall, was poised, inquisitive, and articulate. Seeing Jill and David inspired me to bring my daughter to day 2 of this two-day event. David, thank you for showing me (and everyone in the room) that you do not need to be a woman to champion women. Jill, your presence showed us what we can expect for our future–thank you!

P.P.S. Please remember to...

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Well said Heather. Thank you for the shout out and for writing about such a great event.



Beautiful picture of my Daughter and Granddaughter ❤️❤️ Keep inspiring and making others STRONG! With so much LOVE...

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