Rossier News

At DSAG awards dinner, attention turns to women in school leadership

By Ross Brenneman Published on

2017 DSAG Hall of Fame honoree Maria Ott emphasizes mentorship

While women continue to make progress among the ranks of education leadership, there's still a long way to go.

At the annual awards dinner for the Dean's Superintendent Advisory Group, held this past week in Indian Wells, Calif., the women members of DSAG gathered in the morning for a breakfast discussion of women in leadership.

Established in 1980, DSAG provides an opportunity for superintendents to consult with the dean, network with other superintendents in California and recruit aspiring superintendents to join the Trojan family.

Dean Karen Symms Gallagher, leading the morning session, emphasized the need for mentorship among women. She reflected on her time pursuing a doctorate at Purdue University in Indiana and the help she received from the woman who served as her faculty advisor.

“I was fortunate that I had someone who knew me, talked to me, asked me what I wanted to do and then offered up their wisdom and experience to move forward,” Gallagher said.

Attendees spoke for an hour about how they could better highlight and break down barriers to women's success in education, as well as how they could identify potential new leaders and promise them a seat at the leadership table.

Helping others

The value of mentorship was noted throughout the DSAG convening, both in the morning discussion and the evening's award presentations.

This year's DSAG Hall of Fame Award went to Maria Ott, a professor of clinical education at USC Rossier and the former superintendent of Rowland Unified School District.

Ott was recognized for her litany of achievements as a superintendent and in her other work as an educator, including as the former senior deputy superintendent for Los Angeles Unified School District; a member of the Ednovate Board, which oversees USC Rossier's charter schools; and a current leader of the Urban Superintendents Academy, a professional development collaboration between USC Rossier and AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

Introducing Ott, Professor of Clinical Education Darline Robles highlighted Ott’s mentorship, passion and depth of caring.

“She works hard to ensure the next generation of leaders leads with heart, as she has done and continues to do," Robles said. "And she hopes leaders will also open doors for others who need the extra support to succeed.”

Addressing the audience, Ott joked that the lines for the women's bathroom at superintendent conferences had gotten longer in the past two decades, a visible sign of progress.

While women make up more than three-quarters of the teacher workforce, and about 52 percent of school principals, only a quarter of superintendents are women, according to a 2016 survey by AASA.

Ott noted that her work “advancing the agenda for all women” was one of the most gratifying efforts in which she's involved, and the kind of work that would improve the lives of her grandchildren, six of whom are girls. The youngest just turned one year old.

“I hope that when she grows up, she will not see the absence of role models in the very top roles like I did when I was a little girl growing up,” Ott said.

Scholarship winners

At this year’s dinner, DSAG Fundraising Chair John Roach EdD ’88 reported that the fund was just shy of the goal set when the endowment was launched in 2013. A call to action caused a number of individuals to make a gift, raising an additional $5,500 that evening and exceeding the initial $500,000 goal. A new and ambitious goal was set for 2020: $1 million.

The dinner set a record in terms of numbers of donations and total amount raised, thanks in large part to Board of Councilors member and long-time DSAG sponsor Margaret “Maggie” Chidester EdD ’95 and her husband Steven Chidester. This is the third consecutive year where they personally pledged to match donations of $250 or more from first-time DSAG member donors. The challenge was successfully met, as several DSAG members made their first gift this year, including past DSAG scholarship recipients who attended the evening, now as superintendents.

Funds from the endowment help pay for annual scholarships given every year to students in the EDL program who aspire to the position of superintendent, with a special emphasis on diversifying the ranks of superintendents.

This year's awards went to:

  • Manuel Burciaga, an assistant principal in the Covina-Valley Unified School District;
  • Kevin Hryciw, acting assistant superintendent of human resource services for Arcadia Unified School District; and
  • Ron Tanimura, principal at Crestwood Street Elementary.

“As a son of immigrant parents, I was raised to treasure the opportunities of education that this country has to offer,” Burciaga said while accepting his award. “I aspire to be a superintendent because I see it not just as a way to give back but to pay it forward.”

Annual gifts can be made to the DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund to support future EdD students aspiring to become superintendents. Every gift counts toward the Campaign for the USC Rossier School of Education and helps grow the endowment to increase the number of scholarships awarded in the future. To make a gift, visit or contact Diana Hernandez, director of development, at 213-740-3499 or

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