Adelphi grads are part of a nationwide trend of women superintendents.

by Cecil Harris

A study from the American Association of School Administrators reveals the percentage of women superintendents in our nation’s public schools has increased significantly—from 13.2 percent in 2000 to 24.1 percent in 2010.

Adelphi University graduates Roberta Gerold, M.S. ’73, Ph.D, and Maria Rianna ’82, M.S. ’83, are part of that trend.

Roberta Gerold,
M.S. ’73, Ph.D

Dr. Gerold has been the superintendent of the Middle Country Central School District in Centereach, New York, since 2006. Prior to that, she served as the superintendent in two other Long Island school districts for five years each: Farmingdale and Miller Place.

When Ms. Rianna became the school superintendent in Glen Cove, New York, on July 1, 2013, she faced the aftermath of alleged grade-fixing scandals that occurred on her predecessor’s watch in 2012: According to Newsday, at least 18 teachers have been accused of coaching students on state tests, and employees at a high school allegedly changed New York State Regents Exams scores. The New York State Education Department and the Nassau County district attorney’s office are investigating the charges.

“We have a tremendous staff here, regardless of headlines that may have clouded people’s view of Glen Cove,” said Ms. Rianna, who had been an assistant or deputy superintendent in various districts since 2000, but not in Glen Cove.

A superintendent is responsible for preparing a school district’s budget, providing educational leadership for district teachers and administrators, ensuring that personnel are qualified and well-supervised and maintaining the quality of district schools while also satisfying school board members and the local community.

Maria Rianna
Maria Rianna ’82,
M.S. ’83

It can be a daunting role, perhaps more so for a woman since men have long dominated it.

“Years ago, I experienced not being able to move forward in my career, but I refused to accept it,” Dr. Gerold said. “I refused to accept it because I knew I could do the work. Whenever I have come across someone who may have thought that a woman could not do the job, I’ve said, ‘Let’s have a conversation about that.’ Leadership does not have a specific gender. Public education deserves strong ethical leaders, and that doesn’t have a specific gender.”

Dr. Gerold has been a role model to other women in education, including Ms. Rianna.

“Roberta has been a great resource for me over the years,” said Ms. Rianna, who is scheduled to defend her dissertation at Hofstra University this fall. “I tell her she’s my hero. She has been so successful in serving the community in which she works.”

Ms. Rianna and Dr. Gerold attended Adelphi’s Garden City campus and assumed leadership positions after earning degrees in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education. They talk periodically about the unique challenges their work presents.

“The job of superintendent is more challenging today because we have to make sure students are properly supported with less money in the budget with which to do that,” Ms. Rianna said. “We have to collaborate with the community to advocate for the appropriate funding for our students.”

Working with diverse groups of people and balancing the needs of a school district with the political realities of budget cuts require strong interpersonal and leadership skills, as well as an ability to articulate a clear vision—skills Dr. Gerold and Ms. Rianna honed at Adelphi.

“Adelphi’s classes forced me to think and to defend my positions,” said Dr. Gerold, who earned her master’s degree in special education and received her Ph.D. at Hofstra. “When you’re having conversations, you’re always learning. As a superintendent, I still aspire to be a teacher who is always learning.”

Ms. Rianna earned a degree in psychology before receiving her M.S. in Special Education.

“The faculty at Adelphi was very experienced, and the flexible scheduling helped me finish my master’s in one year while working as a teacher’s assistant,” Ms. Rianna said. “My goal was to be in a classroom to help children. I’m still able to do that, but from a different perspective. The teachers are on the front line, but I’m providing them with the support they need.”

A critical issue facing school superintendents is the new common core curriculum. Advocates say it will produce better-educated students in the long term. But it has led to markedly lower standardized test scores this year.

“There should have been additional time to transition to the program,” Ms. Rianna said. “The emphasis should be on deeper learning,” Dr. Gerold added, “but I don’t believe a one-model-fits-all approach is good for anyone.”

So what advice would Dr. Gerold and Ms. Rianna give to those who aspire to become schools superintendents?

“If you always listen carefully and are willing to accept other points of view, you’ll learn more,” Dr. Gerold said. “Focus on what is a good fit for you,” Ms. Rianna said. “Study, learn and keep your eyes and ears open at all times. That openness can give you a different perspective on things.”

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