MY JOURNEY by Susan R. Rieke-Smith

AASA Women In School Leadership Initiative

More Than a Power Lunch: Building Networks to Support and Advance Women in School Leadership

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Susan R. Rieke-Smith, Ed.D.


Tigard Tualatin School District 23J (OR)

District Size:  12,650 students

District Type:   Urban


Early in my career I thought of myself as an educator whose career path would arch within four classroom walls. I soon realized, I had a desire to directly impact larger instructional systems in pursuit of my passion for student success. 

I began my career in education teaching 5th grade ESOL in two Title I Elementary schools in the Salem-Keizer School District. In 2005, I was recruited to serve as an assistant principal at McKay High School. In 2007, I accepted the principalship at Houck Middle School and was recognized as Oregon’s Middle School Principal of the year. Four years later, I returned to Salem-Keizer Public Schools in a cabinet level position as Director of Instructional Services.  In 2014, I joined the Springfield School District as the assistant superintendent, served briefly as interim superintendent and was later appointed as the permanent superintendent.  In July 2018, I accepted the superintendency of the Tigard Tualatin School District.


Being a superintendent has its challenges, particularly in terms of navigating work-life balance.  I quickly learned I couldn’t be the perfect administrator, the perfect wife, the perfect mother.  I consider myself fortunate to have a spouse who, despite navigating his own career, has been an active partner in raising our three daughters. 


  • I chose not to mimic male leadership models, but instead concentrate on leadership skills and behaviors that create a holistic approach that balances instructional and executive leadership, that puts the feminine first.
  • I am laser focused to equity of outcomes for all students. Because students’ success is at the heart of all my decisions, I am willing to take actions that others won’t.  I was willing to navigate more than a few “baptisms by fire” over the past eighteen years on students’ behalf. 
  • Building and nurturing board relationships and understanding what drives their work is critical. As their agent, it is important to support the board in its policy work. If the board is successful, ultimately the district is successful in providing the best education possible for the community.  


  • Embrace the gift of female leadership.  Female leaders lead holistically and with pragmatism, their intellect informed by their heart. 
  • To be successful, you must stay true to your mission and goals.