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President Reed Among Great Women Leaders in Local Education

Top Volusia, Flagler education posts filled by women
Article reprinted with permission of the Daytona Beach News-Journal © 2011
By DEBORAH CIRCELLI, Education writer

DAYTONA BEACH -- The presidents of Bethune-Cookman University, Stetson University and the incoming president of Daytona State College have a common bond -- women who made history in the higher education field.

Two are the first female presidents at their institutions and the other is the second female when counting the university's founder, Mary McLeod Bethune, who was a pioneer for women in education.

The three local college and university presidents, along with female school superintendents in Volusia and Flagler counties, share stories of breaking gender barriers over their educational careers. The Flagler superintendent was the first female superintendent for Flagler while the Volusia County superintendent made history in her native Pennsylvania in the 1970s.

More opportunities are available for women, but some say more work is needed.

With Daytona State College's first female president, Carol Eaton, starting Aug. 3, Volusia and Flagler counties may be the only area in the state so dominated by women in education: three female college and university presidents and two school superintendents, Margaret "Peg" Smith and Janet Valentine.

Bethune-Cookman president Trudie Kibbe Reed, Stetson president Wendy Libby and Smith and Valentine are excited to add another woman to the mix for discussions on local education needs.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University President John Johnson, who has added women to top positions at the university, will be the lone man among the administrators of the area's four main institutions. They all serve on a local higher education consortium along with Linda Bradley, director of the University of Central Florida Daytona Beach campus and the second woman to hold the post.

"In the old days when you thought of a college president, it was just part of the culture that you assumed it would be a man. That was just the way it was," said Reed, 63, who came to Bethune-Cookman in August 2004 and previously was the first female president at the historically black Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark.


Reed said as more women started breaking stereotypes in the late 1980s and 1990s, "people started to say, 'Hmm. Maybe women can lead schools.' "

"There is an entrenched culture where women are treated differently than their male counterparts," Reed said. "However, we have a lot of assets too and people tend to respect the work we do on the whole."

At her first presidential job in the '90s, Reed said, "You had to prove yourself and work twice as hard."

She said in the beginning "it was like pulling teeth from an elephant. People did not want to follow a female. I had to win the loyalty of a team."

At her first national B-CU alumni meeting in 2005, she said an influential alumnus said he tried not to like her because he didn't think a woman should run the university. He changed his mind when he heard her vision.

With a career in education dating back to 1964, Volusia School Superintendent Margaret Smith has seen firsthand the growing leadership role of women.

Smith, 71, was the first woman to serve as a public school superintendent in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the state's first permanent female secretary of education, after another woman served as interim for a few months. She's been superintendent of Volusia schools since 2004 -- the second woman to fill that post.

"I didn't consider myself to be a trailblazer. What I did know was the best way to be an example for other women was to work very hard to be competent, to be effective and to build good relationships," she said. "I never thought of myself as a female administrator. I thought of myself as an administrator who happens to be female."

Smith remembers having to overcome stereotypes about women when she first became an assistant superintendent in 1975. She often was the only woman when her Pennsylvania colleagues gathered for meetings.

Some of her fellow educators automatically assumed Smith would make coffee for the group or record notes on their discussions simply because she was a woman. "I don't know how many times I had to say, in a professional way, 'I don't drink coffee so I don't make it. You guys make your own coffee', " she recalled.


Smith said women have made many strides in taking on educational leadership roles in recent years, just as career opportunities for women have expanded overall in society. But women remain in the minority nationwide among school superintendents.

In Florida, for example, only 20 of the 67 superintendents are women, according to the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Stetson University president Libby, 60, became Stetson's ninth president in July 2009 and first woman to hold the position in Stetson's more than 125-year history.

When talking about the new president at Daytona State, she said: "All people who get to be president, expect to get (the job) based on their qualifications." Although, she added, it's "very nice" now having three local female presidents in one county.

Libby previously was president for six years at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., where two previous presidents were also women. More women have received doctorate degrees than decades ago, Libby said, better positioning themselves for presidential positions.

The field is recognizing, she said, that "women are as competent and we've moved up and are available for leadership positions."

Eaton, 59, who has been a president at two previous community colleges, said, "We have come a long way, but we still need to come further." She points to the fact she will be one of just four state and community college female presidents currently out of 28 in Florida.

In Maryland, for example, there are nine women heading 16 community colleges compared to all men more than 15 years ago.

"We are making progress and I think that is a recognition that people should be judged on their skills and their experiences and ability to lead," Eaton said.

At Florida's 11 public universities, there are three female presidents, according to the State University System of Florida, which also has a female chair of the board, Ava L. Parker.

Five female presidents represent the 29 members of the Independent Colleges and Universities in Florida, which include private and nonprofit.

Nationally, based on 2006 figures by the American Council on Education, 23 percent of American college presidents are women, up from 10 percent in 1986. New surveys have recently gone out to colleges and universities and new figures will be released next year.


Mikyung Ryu, associate director for the Center for Policy Analysis of the education council, said the sector that has seen the largest increase in 20 years in female presidents in higher education is community colleges. The number went from 8 percent to 29 percent.

She believes the new surveys will show the numbers have continued to increase, "the question is to what extent.

"I think the gap is not necessarily closing, but the gaps are narrowing depending on what type of institution you are interested in," Ryu said.

Janet Valentine, 56, who was Flagler County's first female superintendent when she took the helm about a year ago, said she's never felt being a woman was a handicap in her career from teacher to top-level administrator.

"The roles that I have sought out in my career, I've been successful in obtaining and it's been that way for 30 years," said Valentine.

She thinks the number of female school superintendents in the state is rising, based on her participation in the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Valentine said she thinks women are sometimes expected to "combine leadership with compassion" more than men.

"When you're faced with the possibility of letting an employee go for performance, I think they look to you as a female, that you may have a little more compassion than a male counterpart may," she said.

Daytona State College's selection of a female president is a promising sign, she said.

"It shows that folks are open-minded about making decisions about positions," Valentine said. "It's the level of experience that the individual brings to the role and it's not about gender."

In regard to men working with female presidents, Johnson of Embry-Riddle jokingly said, "I like the odds" when told he'd be the sole man on a local higher education consortium.

He said it's important to have female presidents to "serve as role models for young women," considering statistics show about 60 percent of college students nationally are female. Johnson is also trying to attract more female students because the university's female student population is only about 17 percent.

Johnson, 65, who became president in 2006 after serving as interim, appointed two women to his executive cabinet of eight, including Christina Frederick-Recascino, who is vice president of academics and research and the university's top ranking female.

There were no women previously, he said. In addition, a female board member is also a former university president.

"The issue of gender doesn't come up. We respect each other's opinions," he said.

Frederick-Recascino, who is also on the board at Daytona State College and would one day like to be president of a university, agreed "there is still plenty of work to be done" nationally in education and on college boards so the institutions can reflect the students they serve.

Daytona State College interim president Frank Lombardo, 74, said having more female presidents "is a good thing."

What it shows in education, he said, is "everyone has an opportunity to succeed and it's not based on the color of your skin or gender -- it's based on the quality of work you do."

-- Staff writers Linda Trimble and Annie Martin contributed to this report. 

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About Bethune Cookman University:

Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement.  B-CU offers 38 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 4,000.  For more information, visit

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