Jill Griffin wants young women to know that being a great mom and a great leader or professional isn’t mutually exclusive. That was not the message she remembers getting when she was growing up.
“This is a topic near and dear to my heart and I talk to my daughter about it all the time,” she said.
Griffin is one of four women who are superintendents in Riverbend school districts. Their experience ranges from less than a year to 13. Griffin is in her sixth year on the job as superintendent in Bethalto. All of the women have strong ties to their districts, either through long-term employment or going through the district schools themselves.
Although most teachers are women, they continue to be underrepresented in administrative positions. According to a 2020 American Association of School Administrators study, only 27 percent of the nation’s superintendents are women; women of color have less representation. In Illinois, 27 percent of the 855 superintendents are women.
Being part of a minority in a top position can be lonely at times and challenging, especially for women with families. But these women have found ways to get the support they need.
Like the others, Griffin gets professional support through networking with the Illinois Association of School Administrators. She also relies on her husband, Ryan, and extended family.
“I have an incredible husband and support system with grandparents who are the “Uber” for my kids,” she said. The couple have two teenagers, Bryce, 15, and Delaney, 13. “I’d feel guilty but knowing they’re with people who love them as much as I do makes it easier.”
Balancing work and family obligations while still finding time for self-care can be a juggling act. Griffin said she likes to use the term “blend.”
“I’m not sure balance really works for me. I try to blend my world. I’m into health and wellness, so I’ll go for a bike ride with my daughter. I’m exercising while spending time with her.”
Emily Warnecke is the first female superintendent of the East Alton district, on the job for three years. She and her husband, Jim, have three boys, Collin,10, Caleb, 7, and Ben 5.
Warnecke credits the help of other moms when balancing home and work.
“This is not a job you could do without a substantial personal or professional support system,” she said. “I’m blessed to have had a number of amazing moms in my life who have helped me get to the point I am today.” That includes professors, relatives, and the majority female school board.
Debra Kreutztrager started her professional life in Roxana School District as a student teacher and has spent the last 13 years as its superintendent.
“I couldn’t do what I do if not for Tim,” said Kreutztrager. “I am so thankful to have a supportive husband who has always taken care of the day-to-day on the home front.” The couple have two daughters, Katelyn, 23, and Sara, 21.
“Having my own kids grow up and go through the same district has been a blessing. I was able to be a part of their school lives even though I wasn’t present at home as much as their dad,” she said.
Kristie Baumgartner is finishing her first year as superintendent of Alton School District. She’s held a number of positions in the district the past 21 years, including assistant superintendent. She said she’s been fortunate to be surrounded by so many educators who served as mentors.
“It's wonderful to work in a district that is filled with so many amazing teachers and staff. It's not hard to be inspired every single day just by spending time in our schools,” she said.
She and her husband, Steve, have two children, Collin, 22 and Sydney, 18. Their weekly schedules sometimes include a “high level of craziness,” but they try to make it all work.
“Being a mother has been my greatest joy. I wouldn’t trade this time for anything, though. Even with the hectic schedules, we feel tremendously blessed.”