Colbert empowers female education leaders through mentorship

Between light bites and laughs, HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. shared pearls of wisdom with 12 female educators during the inaugural Women In Educational Leadership master class, held Thursday evening at Irvington.

Harris County Department of Education Superintendent James Colbert Jr. leads a Women in Educational Leadership seminar, September 15, 2022.

“Today’s discussion may ruffle your feathers a little bit,” said Colbert. “I will say some things that other people won’t tell you, but they’re thinking.”

The women, whose titles range from counselors to principals, listened attentively as Colbert shared personal anecdotes, guided them through exercises that visualized their trajectory, and shed light on compensation discrepancies between male and female education leaders.

“Women and minorities have difficulty advocating for themselves,” said Colbert. “I prep superintendents for interviews. Since I’ve been at HCDE, I’ve helped 16 people become superintendents. None of them women. Over the past three years, I have decided to mentor 11 women. Only 2 of them have gotten an interview for a superintendency.”

HCDE Instructional Coach Nkechinyere Ihejirikah, who proposed the Women In Educational Leadership workshop to Colbert, says it was her experience at a recent Houston Area Alliance of Black School Educators’ (HAABSE) Conference that sparked the idea.

“Mr. Colbert moderated a panel with four other superintendents. Only one of them was a woman,” said Ihejirikah. “Women are the backbone of the work in education, but we’re not getting promoted at the rate our male counterparts are. And so the question is why?”

Keenan Lemons, the program director for nonprofit Literacy Now, attended the masterclass.

“I could have sat here for two more hours,” she said. “I can’t believe that I got this opportunity for free. I was able to hear all of his wisdom, and I was impressed by how much he was willing to share. I could not have gotten this type of experience anywhere for free.”

Harris County Department of Education Superintendent James Colbert Jr. speaks with attendee Keenan Lemons, September 15, 2022.

Lemons says that the advice shared by Colbert has given her much to think about as she contemplates future job opportunities.

“We always wonder how people got to where they are, but no one wants to give those secrets,” said Lemons. “I really did appreciate the salary arc exercise that we did. It helped me to see how far I’ve come in such a short period of time. But he really made me focus on the goal and what I truly want. Sometimes we are just so grateful to be in whatever leadership title role you’re in that you don’t think about the big picture.”

The Women In Educational Leadership workshop series is ongoing.

For more information about the Women In Educational Leadership seminar, contact Nkechinyere Ihejirikah at nihejirikah@hcde-texas.org.

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