Elizabeth A. Clark (2001-2002)
Professional, organizational and historical context…
I was deputy superintendent in Katy ISD at this time which was a very exciting and rewarding experience as I reflect back on those years. Katy was a fast growth district and we were constantly building new schools, hiring new staff, and working on taking the curriculum and instructional programs to the next level. I remember that Dr. Leonard Merrell was president of TASA at the same time that I was president of TCWSE. This was very unusual and presented opportunities for me to connect the mission and goals of TCWSE to the work that TASA was doing. I remember that I often defended TCWSE as a viable and legitimate organization and not just a collection of women who were beating the drums for "women rights." I truly believe that Dr. Merrell has been a strong supporter and advocate for women administrators and he and I developed a truly deep admiration and love for one another over the 11 years in which I worked with him and for him. Thus, the context of my presidency represented the contradiction or dichotomy of the prevailing attitudes that existed among many who did support women in administrative roles, but who also saw TCWSE as being a "women's lib" group and didn't take it seriously. While we did see more women being promoted to central leadership positions, we also recognized that many women were not fully vested with all the recognition and acceptance that their male counterparts had. Organizations such as TCWSE were still on the periphery and not completely trusted or viewed as a viable organization for women. Many women were afraid to join in fear that it would hinder them from receiving coveted leadership positions as superintendents, and those who did join saw it as an opportunity to position themselves for being promoted or recommended by some prominent women who were members of TCWSE and didn't associate any negative consequences to being members.
September 11, 2001
However, this was also a very troubling time for our nation. In the wake of September 11, 2001, many people starting asking themselves, "What matters most in life?" I know that September 11, 2009 impacted my psyche deeply. I realized just one more time how very precious and tentative life is for all of us. I also realized that I was at a point in my life where I needed to personally and professionally make each day one of thanksgiving, growth, and a deeper understanding and reverence for God and mankind.
I was personally struck by the number of heroic acts of bravery, personal sacrifices, and outward signs of unity that we all witnessed during the tragic events of 9/11. It dawned on me that while people can be heroes by going it alone in the complex environment in which we live and work they do so at such great personal and professional peril. I believed then and now more strongly than ever that working in isolation is really no longer a viable or desirable attribute. Instead, working collaboratively with shared commitments and shared knowledge is much more powerful in terms of organizational capacity. This is one of the true benefits of organizations such as TCWSE and one that begin to resonate within me during my tenure.
All of these events came together for me and helped me to envision that TCWSE was truly on a quest to perfect who we are so we can lead, mentor, and encourage others. Ultimately, what we become is realized in the shared vision, the collegiality, and the collective experiences of our membership.
I am a visionary leader and my presidency was about establishing a new vision for TCWSE. I came at a time when we needed to transition from being viewed as an organization that was simply about getting women into superintendent positions to one that embraced the notion that we are really about women being leaders at all levels of the educational spectrum. I spoke frequently about the need to embrace who we are and why we exist by going back to what the mission statement calls for in terms of renewal, mentoring, and career advancement. In one of my messages, I took the letters of TCWSE to formulate a vision for my presidency:
T—Building mutual trust;
C—Establishing internal and external collaboratives;
W—Looking for win-win opportunities that are mutually beneficial;
S—Seeking sponsorships that range from involving our members in mentoring new members to enlisting outside groups who are willing to sponsor our initiatives; and
E—Creating a climate of enthusiasm for TCWSE and the work that we are doing among members and prospective members.
I believe that my term was primarily about establishing the cornerstones of trust, collaborations, win-win opportunities, sponsorships, and enthusiasm as the basis for the actions and initiatives that were undertaken to realize our vision and mission as a viable organization and one that could be taken seriously. I encouraged members to make a commitment to be a part of helping to take TCWSE to a new frontier, one where we could truly leave a legacy for the future. I wanted members to overcome the notion that we must be regular because that kind of thinking robs one of taking the chance to be extraordinary.
I am pleased that during my tenure our organization accomplished the following:
- Increased membership and attendance at the conference.
- Increased sponsorships for our conference.
- A mentoring program was developed and members were trained to become mentors.
- An increased emphasis on learning and building the knowledge base of our members.
- More inclusion and visibility of strong men at our conferences, such as David Thompson, Dr. Leonard Merrell, and Dr. Johnny Veselka, and other male superintendents. The purpose was to begin to build a bridge of mutual trust and collaboration.
One of the most memorable achievements in my career was receiving the Margret Montgomery Leadership Award from TCWSE. I cherish this because of the namesake who has been my teacher and mentor for many years. Margret Montgomery has probably had more impact on education in the state of Texas than anyone I know. She epitomizes the words extraordinary, legendary, visionary, courageous, and heroic leader. It is truly an honor to be the recipient of an award named in memory of her leadership and in some small way to be associated with the attributes that clearly set Margret Montgomery apart from the "pack." This has and will be what stands out in my memories and association with TCWSE.
Tribute to TCWSE
Then- In the fall of 2001, I believed that TCWSE was in a perfect position to take a leadership role in both mentoring women administrators and encouraging women to become mentors. We had the expertise of a diverse group of women who had given years of outstanding service to education in Texas. We had the experience of a solid core of members who were making their way through the ranks of educational administration in school districts and colleges and universities throughout the state. We also had the enthusiasm of a talented pool of women who were just beginning to turn their attention to advancing their careers. I saw great potential in increasing our visibility, creditability, and influence. We were on the cusp of going forward and reaching new heights.
Now- I believe we have lost sight of who we are and why we exist. Some of the luster has tarnished. We aren't growing as we should. We aren't reaching out to tap the talent that is out there in every region. We aren't able to hold the members of the past and keep them coming back to serve as mentors for those who are just beginning. Last, we aren't focusing on learning the art and science of leading in an environment where the stakes are higher, the challenges are greater, and the time is now!
Future – I am optimistic that we can refocus our attention of the right things, rekindle our commitment and enthusiasm, and rejuvenate our members to become more active and diligent in getting new members and inviting those that have stopped coming to TCWSE to come back!
If we will all work on behalf of TCWSE throughout this year and the years beyond, we can be legendary! We need to find a place to serve and do so with zeal in our heart to make the journey a little easier for those who will follow.