MY JOURNEY by Gwendolyn Page Shannon

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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Gwendolyn Page Shannon


Southampton County Public Schools (VA)

District Size:  2,850 students

District Type: Rural


My journey into educational leadership began when I was a classroom teacher. Mrs. Pauline Rhodes, my former high school teacher and now colleague and I were in the Clarksdale High School cafeteria sharing our post-baccalaureate journey. I was completing a master’s degree in Natural Science at Delta State University and was wondering what next?

Mrs. Rhodes shared with me that she was enrolled in an education administration program and suggested that I try it.  I was an eager 23-year-old science teacher with a determination to change the world and was unaware of the doors that would open with a degree in administration. I heeded my colleague’s advice and earned my Educational Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Delta State University and my Doctor of Philosophy in Education Administration from Mississippi State University – the rest is history.

Starting as a biology teacher and eventually serving as superintendent in two states, I have always been identified as a leader and frontrunner who has empowered others and motivated them to follow their own paths to success.  My passion for impacting students, parents, families, and communities has brought mutual gratification as I built relationships and connections that continue to influence others today.


Seeking mentors to enhance my skills and talents, I found few female superintendent mentors. To navigate my journey and be successful, I took advantage of the support services offered through Mississippi State Department of Education and Mississippi School Boards Association. I received training from the Leadership Institute for Superintendents at Harvard University and the Executive Leadership Program at Vanderbilt University. I also enrolled in the AASA and Howard University Urban Superintendent Academy, which connected me with Dr. Rosa Atkins, a successful Virginia superintendent, and Mrs. Gina Patterson from the Virginia School Boards Association. Both women provided sound advice and a listening ear as I began to get my feet wet in a leadership position in another state. 


  • Women aspiring to become an effective educational leader or superintendent need an unshakeable support system.They need someone to help them identify their strengths and encourage them as they sail into uncharted territory.
  • To be successful, believe in yourself and others, be flexible and open-minded, take risks, and focus on the big picture, yet pay attention to details.

 My mother’s advice motivates me daily: “people perceive you the way that you present yourself - so exude confidence, excellence, and class.”