By Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D.
Like other women before me, being of Native American and African American descent, I too faced obstacles. I am proud to say I persevered. I earned my bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. I went on to serve as a special education teacher, Alexandria City Public Schools’ chief of human resources and now as the division’s interim superintendent.
Through my life story, I have recognized the importance of equality where everyone is given the same opportunity to make the most of their abilities. Even more importantly, I have come to understand the necessity of equity. It is equity that recognizes each person’s circumstances differ and aims to remove barriers, adjusting for imbalances. This is vital in the educational arena and in the workplace.
A Pew Research Center analysis found in late 2019 that women have surpassed men and account for more than half of the college-educated workforce in the United States. Just the same, Census Bureau statistics still point to an overall workforce wage gap. Government findings indicate women made 83 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2020. Women of color are at an even greater disadvantage. The American Association of University Women concludes gender pay equity is not just a women’s issue. AAUW concludes as more women become the primary wage-earner in their family, the gender wage gap affects children, families, communities and society in general.
Science, technology, engineering and math fields provide a rewarding option for young girls with an interest in this career path. The U.S. Department of Labor projects 11% job growth in STEM careers by 2031. Currently, women fill less than 30% of the high-paying STEM jobs available.
It has been suggested that the number of girls interested in STEM nearly doubles when there is a role model to inspire them, as mentorship builds confidence. While open to all ACPS students, I invite our young women in the school division with an interest in STEM to consider the Alexandria City High School STEM Academy. It is ideal for students who do not feel engaged by a traditional high school model. The deadline to apply in 2023 is March 15.
Empowerment through education is something the women several of our Alexandria schools are named after understood. Naomi L. Brooks, Jane Solomon Crouch and Cora Webster Kelly provided all students the foundation for future success that education offers. Kelly’s tombstone reads, “Beloved teacher who trained the hearts and minds of Alexandria youth through 53 years of dedicated service.” Minnie Howard was the founder of the City’s first Parent Teacher Association, which continues its advocacy today for our students.
While women’s achievements account for many firsts, such as the first woman in space, in the U.S. Supreme Court or first woman vice-president, I look forward to the day when our storytellers do not say the first woman in a particular area because they have already achieved that goal. As we mark Women’s History Month, and celebrate the women who tell our stories, we are reminded that advocating for oneself is among the ways to break the “glass ceiling,” that invisible barrier preventing women from pursuing career advancements and growth.
One of the greatest storytellers in modern-day media, Oprah Winfrey, said “With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.” Winfrey also made it clear that “Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.”
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.