ACSA’s first-ever Sisterhood Leadership Symposium kicked off Saturday, May 18, in Alhambra with a keynote address from Cynthia H. Breunig, CEO and president of the Girls Scouts of San Gorgonio Council. Breunig was a Mariner Scout for 10 years and credits the program with fostering her passion for art, community service and business. She is a committed advocate for girls and women, and a proponent of single-gender girl spaces for experiencing and learning life skills. Prior to joining GSSGC, she served for 13 years as the president and CEO of Inner-City Arts in Los Angeles.
Speaking to the event theme of “Our Voices Are Vital,” Breunig spoke about the power of networking and building strong connections in the leadership journey, saying, “Today, set aside your titles and many degrees and just listen to each other.”
In highlighting aspects of her own journey, Breunig talked about the value of setting an example and providing mentoring for young girls with dreams who, she says, will grow up into women with vision. She talked about the challenges she took on, such as addressing high school graduation and teen pregnancy for girls, and offered the honest advice that every woman in the room should simply, “Take a leap of faith and just be brave.” Breunig showed no shortage of faith in the abilities and passion for change shown by the women who gathered together for the event, encouraging all with the idea that, “Powerfully discovering, connecting and taking action … that’s how you change the world!”
After the keynote session, participants broke into groups to attend a variety of breakout sessions following three strands: Leadership in an Era of Accountability, which focused on leadership and equity courage; Advancing and Excelling in Your Career, focusing on career advancement in the educational leadership field; and finally, Personal Branding and Self-Care, which focused on work-life balance and building executive presence.
One session titled “Branding Like A BOSS” and presented by Donna Marie Hunter, focused on the power of presence and personal branding. Participants were asked to deeply think through an essential question for all leaders — “Why should anyone follow you?”
Another focused on the specific challenges women seeking leadership positions face. “Smashing the Glass Ceiling with Purpose and Determination” by Rosa Coronado addressed the disparities in representation for women in educational leadership. “Women in particular sometimes have to make tough choices,” she said, outlining some of the challenges women face in explaining employment gaps and choosing careers while balancing family concerns.
The well-attended session focused on practical tools for women actively seeking to move forward in their leadership journey, including document preparation, networking and social media presence.
The “Equity Through Community Partnerships” workshop presented by Antoinette Gutierrez, Joseph Williams, Donna Martin and Claudia Lopez focused on San Bernardino High School’s data and equity programs to highlight ways to work with the community to improve equity indicators. The presenters also detailed efforts to create the San Bernardino High School Community Collaborative, whose mission is to empower students holistically with real-world applications of core academics and life skills. The collaborative seeks to achieve specific equity targets, while analyzing equity data and community efforts to meet those targets.
“We have a lot of kids that fall through the cracks … one of our goals is to have 100 percent of our students having a positive relationship with an adult,” said Gutierrez. “What we want is a welcoming environment where community members know that they will receive fair and equitable treatment and that we love their kids.”
Another leadership-focused session by Renee Hill, former assistant superintendent of Riverside Unified School District, focused on the essential tools of leadership including meeting facilitation, securing vital input, conquering time crunches, and the vital process of developing and mentoring new leaders.
Patricia Brent-Sanco, director of Lynwood Unified School District, and Leslie Lockhard, superintendent of the Culver City Unified School District, teamed up to present “Recognize, Respond, Redress, and Re-create: Using the skills of an equity literate leader to ensure equitable school and work environments,” which was designed to provide an understanding of The Four Skills of Equity Literacy using the works of Paul Gorski.
Participants engaged in an interactive workshop that provided an opportunity to reflect on implicit biases in the workplace, as well as the ways in which race and gender intersect to create different workplace experiences for every woman. Attendees used small group discussion time to focus on learning to respond to micro-aggressions, understanding the concept of redress, and recreating traditional school structures into equitable school environments.
After handing out paper crowns, Brent-Sanco led the group in an exercise designed to raise awareness of the different challenges women, especially women of color, face in the workplace. Participants were asked to list their “Queenly Privileges,” “Noble Struggles,” and “Royal Responsibilities” before debriefing the exercise. She then led a discussion on code-switching and tools designed to improve equity literacy for educators.
The day ended with a panel discussion featuring Kim Lawe, director, Corona-Norco USD; Heather Griggs, superintendent, Oro Grande School District; Judy White, county superintendent, Riverside County Office of Education; May Sieu, superintendent, ABC USD; and Antoinette Gutierrez, principal, San Bernardino City USD. The panel was moderated by Rachel Monarrez, assistant superintendent of continuous improvement, San Bernardino USD, and focused on the day’s theme “Our Voices are Vital.”
The panel discussed a range of topics including the value of authenticity and telling your story as a component of advocacy, code-switching, working with male allies, the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, and how to educate each other on celebrating and supporting the differences among women.
“I joined ACSA and went to my first Women in Leadership Forum, and my male colleagues asked me how the Powder Puff conference was,” said Lawe. “I sought out my allies and developed relationships with people who would help amplify my voice.”
The discussion included views on how to maintain cultural identity while overcoming the barriers that may exist more strongly for women of color and immigrant women and how to develop and sustain networks of allies.
“If there are not enough seats at the table … pull up more,” said Gutierrez.
White confirmed this strategy, saying, “Oftentimes many of the people standing behind me and helping me were women.”
The conversation included an in-depth discussion of the systemic barriers facing women seeking leadership positions and strategies for overcoming some of those barriers. “A ceiling — glass or otherwise — cannot exist without the walls that hold it up,” said White.
The response to the day was extremely positive as female education leaders gathered together to strengthen their network and to celebrate each other.
“I felt like the event really brought together a lot of things that people need to focus on right now,” said Angela Dorough of El Rancho USD. “I’m an aspiring administrator, so the tools and information were very useful for me.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Jennifer Bourgeois, director of research, evaluation and school improvement, at Corona-Norco USD.
“Today’s event was inspiring and energizing,” she said. “It was great to network with female colleagues from across the central and southern California area and to talk about how to help all students achieve. The village around us to lift us and support us is incredible.”