Polish the glass ceiling

Published 2:14 pm Friday, May 14, 2010

“Women need not apply.”

One would think this is an outdated statement, a reminder of the days when sexism (to be politically correct) was commonplace, and the glass ceiling very much a reality.

However, the unanimous decision made by the Decatur County Board of Education on Tuesday is evidence corroborative of the fact that the vestiges of this mantra, “Women need not apply,” still loom right here in southwest Georgia.

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Only one month after the deadline for applications to the Superintendent of School’s position elapsed, the board sealed the deal to hire an out-of-county finalist. No other finalists were named.

To give the board the benefit of the doubt, I will assume they inadvertently overlooked two highly qualified local candidates who happened to not possess the most favorable biological composition.

But, let’s ask the real question here. Is that biological composition the most important factor in selecting the chief administrative officer for the Decatur County School System?

Is it more important that the board, whose composition looks strikingly familiar—a “good ole’ boys’ club of sorts” with the exception of one member—feel “comfortable” with someone who looks like them? It makes sense.

The superintendent and the board have to have an amicable relationship, be able to speak freely to hash out issues of gravity like fiscal responsibility, classroom accountability, construction oversight and human resource management. And despite the fact that the two local candidates who have served as assistant superintendents have a dearth of experiences (more than 30 years each) in all of the aforementioned areas, perhaps the board thought it more important that they felt “comfortable” with the person with whom they decided those issues. After all, don’t you feel most “comfortable” with people who look like you?

Now, those are primarily the aesthetics of the situation; we’ve just hit surface level.

What about the strengths and competencies of the local candidates?

Did they possess what Decatur County needs to secure the foundation of a new era in educational excellence? Certainly yes, but we shall never know what effect such a decision would have had.

Decatur County has a wonderful school system, shaped by faculty and staff at each and every elementary, middle and high school who genuinely care about creating a premier education. But a closer look at our school system (as almost any in the country) will reveal that women compose the overwhelming majority of classroom teachers.

It is interesting that most of those who are on the frontline with our children whether as teachers, guidance counselors or administrators are women. So, it is probably important that the next superintendent have an array of classroom experiences in all of those areas to better understand the challenges facing classroom teachers in light of increased state and national standards for our schools.

The local candidates have had experiences in all of those positions. But perhaps, one year of classroom experience is more “comfortable.”

The local candidates have overseen construction of two of Decatur County Schools’ newest edifices, are intimately familiar with the strains of budget shortfalls, and have shielded Decatur County from the massive personnel terminations that other school districts have undergone over the past year.

The local candidates have years of accreditation experience, an expansive network of allies on the state and national educational arenas for the benefit of the entire system, and have years of experience in producing exemplary test scores and “high-performing” schools.

However, what may be most important is that they have invested; I reiterate invested, in the local community.

They have lived here and contributed to Decatur County. They are teachers, they are friends and they are mentors. They support the local athletic program, the band, the FFA; they represent the entire school system at civic events and churches.

They have raised their families here. One even produced a valedictorian and salutatorian of Bainbridge High School.

If that’s the kind of investment in local education that takes place in their homes, it goes without saying how committed they are to the success and continued growth of the intellectual gem that is the Decatur County School System because of the work they have put in.

They have recruited the best and brightest for Decatur County. I’ve heard that one of the biggest concerns in schools today is the ability to find well-qualified people to fill administrative positions.

These local candidates have blazed the path to leadership for classroom teachers to become principals. They have put in the time and effort.

The Decatur County Board of Education had an opportunity to take a stand. The board had an opportunity to show the most important people who are watching this, our children, the revered classroom teacher, and their constituents, a most important lesson: hard work pays off; your good deeds are not unnoticed.

But, what they have instead told these people and a teacher who may aspire to such a position someday is that your work can go unnoticed if you don’t “look the part.”

Today is not your day, not yet.

The time for justice is not now.

There are limits.

I guess we better polish up that glass ceiling.

W.T. TurnerBainbridge, Ga.