Karen Woodward: Making a difference in students’ lives

03/03/2014 9:16 PM

03/03/2014 9:26 PM

For Karen Woodward, leadership is an attitude and an approach to life.

The Lexington 1 superintendent recently was awarded the 2014 Women in School Leadership Award by AASA, The School Superintendents Association. The national professional organization includes more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and worldwide.

The Women in School Leadership Award recognizes the exceptional leadership of active, front-line female administrators who make a difference in the lives of students. Woodward was recognized recently in the superintendent/assistant superintendent category at the AASA National Conference on Education in Nashville.

Woodward has been a superintendent 29 years and has spent the past 13 at Lexington 1. She spoke recently about the award, her passion for students and her philosophy on leadership.

What was your reaction to your AASA Women in School Leadership Award selection?

“I felt honored to be a part of recognizing the impact that women leaders across this nation are having on the quality of public education. I am very fortunate to be part of a great Lexington 1 team who understands the kind of education our children need for their future and who are willing to take the bold steps necessary to provide that education.”

What have been some of the more rewarding aspects of your work in education, and specifically in leadership roles?

“My greatest rewards come from being an advocate for children, their futures and the role of public education. Our district’s Schools of the Future — Now! initiative is grounded in our absolute commitment to the idea that each and every child will have access to top-notch learning experiences. We want them to graduate so well-prepared that they can pursue and attain the careers they choose and, in turn, access the good life. I like helping to make that happen.”

When did you first know that you wanted to enter the education field?

“Public service was a very strong value in my family growing up, and I knew that I wanted to spend my life in public service. As young people do, I considered various careers. I actually graduated from high school at 16 years old in an attempt to get an early start toward a career in the medical field.”

So what ultimately gave education the edge?

“Through my experiences participating in and leading church, community and youth activities, I found that I liked the creative process of designing activities, organizing to get things done and making things better. Most importantly, I saw how important it was for young people to feel capable and confident and the role of learning and the importance of opportunity. All of these things are bone deep in teaching and, thus, led me to my career choice of teaching.”

Can you tell us a little bit about your initial transition from an instructor to an administrator and what brought that about?

“I enjoyed teaching tremendously and did not have specific plans to become an administrator. Along the way, however, administrators I worked with asked me to take on more and different responsibilities, and those opportunities led me into leadership roles. I am also an avid learner. I have always liked to learn which led me to continue to further my education. That combination of experiences and education prepared me for when new opportunities arose.”

What special challenges do you feel still exist for female administrators in today’s climate?

“The challenges are many — too few role models, too few opportunities for young women to test drive the leadership abilities that they have, the lack of encouragement and opportunities, the well-documented effects of cultural gender bias, family responsibilities — all of which contributes to this gap. To address these issues and to prepare a new generation of global leaders, all students in our school district must participate in leadership development learning activities.”

To that end, what are some of the greatest challenges all educators continue to face in preparing students for the future?

“In a complex world, our children must not only be academically capable and skilled for the 21st century, but they must also be resilient, able to deal with conflict, get along with others, respect each other’s differences and be good problem solvers. In order for us, as individuals and as a nation, to cope with our increasingly complex world, we must prepare our students to be emotionally intelligent as well as academically competent, sophisticated in learning and accomplished in the 21st century skills.”

How important do you think it is that younger female professional and students see people like yourself excelling in such roles?

“It is critical. Young people need to see what is possible and believe they can achieve those possibilities. We are all influenced by what we see, who we see and how we see things done. It is so important for young people to not only see successful people accomplishing things but also to associate with those people and be encouraged, inspired to lean forward, connected to those people. It is about visualizing the art of possibilities.”

How do you view the concept of leadership?

“Leadership is not a position. It is an attitude and an approach to life. It is having a vision for something greater than yourself and the drive to see that vision realized. I know, at a deep level, the significant difference public education makes in the lives of our children and for their futures, the quality of our communities, and the prosperity and freedom of our democratic nation. Public education is not an option. It is fundamental to who we are as a nation.”

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