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Doctoral dissertation on women in education has local impact

Superintendent Dr. Janet WardenRed Hook Superintendent of Schools Dr. Janet Warden’s work on women in educational leadership roles is already having an impact in the region and the goal is for those ripples to spread across the state. 
Warden recently defended her dissertation, “Building Confidence and Leadership Competencies of Women Educational Leaders Leading to Career Advancement to Superintendency,” at Fordham University, earning the title doctor. But more important than the title are the changes taking place in the lives of women involved in what she helped create as part of her dissertation. 
Fordham University has a dissertation in practice which requires candidates to study a problem intensely and then implement a change or solution to address it. 
Having started as a teacher's assistant and worked her way up through the ranks to superintendent, Warden encountered obstacles and developed a passion for helping to lift women up in the field. 
During her studies she found that nationally, 76 percent of the teachers were women, but only seven percent of the superintendents were women. New York is better, she said, with 27 percent of women holding the superintendency, but only four percent of them women of color. 
“There was a lot of research on the problem, but almost zero on people trying to make a change,” she said, adding that much of her research looked at what was happening in higher education and business. “They target women in middle management and give them extra training in the fields which are predominantly men.” 
Warden worked with Dutchess BOCES Director of Educational Resources Jenny Schinella and Cora Stempel, former Dutchess BOCES deputy superintendent and current consultant to the organization, to create a year-long workshop for women in Dutchess, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan counties that met once a month to work on leadership competencies. 
“I took on women’s mindsets toward careers,” she said. “If women have opportunities to talk about leadership, they will want to advance. If they network, they would advance and if they hear from influential women leaders, they would want to apply for those jobs.” 
The program seems to have worked. 
“I’m happy to report that three of the women in the series did receive promotions so that’s a win,” Warden said, with a big smile. 
“The biggest driver was the panel discussions. It was the most influential in terms of building confidence,” she said. Those panels – with local participants – covered topics including work/life balance, how to interview and obstacles and solutions to advancement. 
Warden said when she started out, she did not see herself in the role of superintendent through other women. "I wanted to lead but essentially so other women could see that you can be a mother, wife, superintendent and break down the traditional role of how people view a superintendent.”

Next steps

The first cohort of women in the series will celebrate their participation in the program, and Warden hopes to keep them together and explore building another cohort to continue panel discussions and provide time for members to interact. 
Personally, the experience has helped Warden become more mindful of the importance of having women in leadership positions, and people of color in leadership positions. 
Since her degree is in leadership administration and policy, the work has helped her look at problems differently. While some require a quick fix or decision, others require an adaptive change, a look at systems and structures. “I need to take the time to really identify the problems,” she said. 
Warden would like to see her research spur more work and solutions on women of color advancing to superintendency. She also wants to provide the New York State School Board Association with access to her data and would like to see training offered to board members and recruiters to make them more aware. Finally, she would like to see this type of program offered as part of higher education curricula so people who are going for their administration degrees can hear from panelists to show them how to get there. 
Later this month, Warden will participate in graduation ceremonies at Fordham and will officially graduate in August. But you can start calling her Dr. Warden now … if you wish.


The first female superintendent of schools, Phebe Sudlow, was born in Poughkeepsie, NY as was Red Hook Superintendent of Schools Dr. Janet Warden. Sudlow served as superintendent of Davenport (Iowa) Community Schools from 1874-1878, according to the Iowa History Journal.