APRIL 2022 | DR. CHRISTINA M. KISHIMOTO
After 31 years as a public educator, Kathy Demers retired as School Superintendent of the Monroe Public Schools in Ohio, and joined BASA – the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. In her new leadership role at BASA, former Superintendent Demers delivered the largest women’s educational leader conference in Ohio with 440 women leaders in attendance.
Christina: Kathy, March 10th and 11th was a lot of fun! I had the chance to be at BASA’s (Buckeye’s Association of School Administrators ) 17th annual women’s conference. You had record numbers! Seventeen years and you had your highest number of attendees. Tell me about that.
Kathy: Yes, we had 440 women in attendance. Of those in attendance, we had K-12 educators, superintendents, district-level administrators, classroom teachers, treasurers, administrative assistants, many of whom are involved in K-12 education. A small percentage of our partners from corporate and business were in attendance as well.
So we have been doing this for 17years. It started with BASA women’s committee with an attendance of about 100. The year before Covid, we had about 286 in person, and during Covid, the conference went virtual. So this is the first in-person conference since Covid, with 440 in attendance. It is the largest celebration of women in leadership conference that BASA has hosted and the largest of all of the conferences we have hosted. So we are very excited about those numbers.
Why is it so important for women to convene in this way. There are a number of amazing conferences in Ohio, regionally, and nationally where superintendents and other leaders get together in the field of education. So why is it important to have a separate space that focuses on women in leadership?
As female leaders, we have unique needs in our roles and throughout our journey that are a little different. It is great to be part of creating a space for large groups of women to come together to network, learn, and grow in a safe space. Through the feedback that we received from the women’s conference, that has been a key theme. Women feel very comfortable and welcomed.
I had one woman share with me that she felt this was the first opportunity she had at a conference to be herself and not be judged. She felt welcomed as she was in the space with women who had similar needs and similar journeys. We must continue to be in touch with the needs of aspiring leaders and current female leaders to create space for them to help meet those needs and support them in their roles.
I was particularly impressed that there were multi-generational presenters, from junior high and high school age through highly experienced leaders, administrators, and superintendents presenting as part of the conference. You gave a multi-generational voice to women. You also had vendors that were multi-generational. You had a school-age vendor, a college vendor, and other vendors there, which was just fantastic. You were very intentional about that. Can you tell me about that?
Being in touch with our female educators and their needs was important. We looked to our presenters to make sure they reflected who our audience was going to be. It is important to the BASA women’s committee to make sure we are working with our young ladies who are not just current educators but who are school age and bring them along on this journey. We want to be mentors and role models and create opportunities and experiences for them to lead as well.
I was on the elevator with one of the attendees, and I asked her what her favorite part of the conference was, and she said it was the young lady speaker, as it reminded her of her purpose as an educator. I thought that was powerful.
In addition, our vendors for the conference were all female-owned businesses, entrepreneurs, multi-generational women supporting women. Whether they were in education, businesses, or corporations, they all came together to support each other.
A common theme during the conference was the increase in women superintendents in Ohio, reaching 20%. The national average is 27%. Education is a woman-led profession, yet at the highest seat, the Superintendency, women are represented in only 27% of those seats. What are your thoughts about what Ohio and the nation needs to do to address the inequity in access?
We are all in this together and need to work together to close that gap collectively. As an organization, we are focusing on how we can close that gap in Ohio. During the women’s conference, we launched a women’s leadership series that we are sponsoring. It is a 6-part series that starts in September to continue to bring women together, both aspiring and current leaders, that will focus on confidence, communication, and various skill sets in leadership. This will be our third cohort. We had two cohorts prior to Covid, and now we are picking back up.
Our women’s committee is branching out with Superintendents taking the lead in their regions to continue the work of the women’s conference by bringing women in their region together until we meet again as a large group at next year’s women’s conference. They will do various activities and events to keep the relationships strong, build the network, and continue with professional training while addressing the needs of women. So it’s not just the women’s conference, and you’re done. We want to keep the women engaged and to bring new women along. Hopefully, through those efforts, we will continue to get more women interested in those higher-level positions by having these various opportunities and equipping them with the support, skillset, and resources to help them develop as leaders.
Whether we are talking about this at a local, county, state, or national level, the more we can continue to foster opportunities to get more women involved and provide the resources to help them get to where they aspire to be; eventually, we will see that gap close.
You were leading the Monroe Public Schools most recently before joining BASA. How has that transition been from Superintendent to leading in a professional learning organization?
I did retire at the end of July with 31 years in public education. Twenty-four of the thirty-one years were in school administration. It was an absolutely beautiful journey, and I loved every one of those 31 years. I am really enjoying this position at BASA. Now I am in a role where I get to help meet the needs of school leaders across the state of Ohio. Just coming out of the Superintendency, I bring that fresh lens and perspective of their needs. I also spent a little over a year as a Superintendent during Covid.
Kathy, I want to thank you for your service to our nation’s children and for your leadership in Ohio and nationally. Thank you for this opportunity to talk with you about the great work you continue to lead.
Thank you very much, Christina. I appreciate it.