Alone at the top

Terry Roberts
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This province's only female director of education only ever wanted to be a good classroom teacher

Cindy Fleet will always remember the moment her late grandmother, Mary Grace, turned to her and said, "Never rely on a man for your living."

It was a defining moment for the native of Grand Falls-Windsor, and Fleet took the advice to heart from a woman who had her own business in the 1930s.

Cindy Fleet is CEO and director of education for the Nova Central School District, a district comprising 66 schools, nearly 13,000 students and 2,000 full- and part-time employees. - Photo by Kevin Higgins/The Beacon

Cindy Fleet will always remember the moment her late grandmother, Mary Grace, turned to her and said, "Never rely on a man for your living."

It was a defining moment for the native of Grand Falls-Windsor, and Fleet took the advice to heart from a woman who had her own business in the 1930s.

"That certainly stuck with me, that it was important to be independent," Fleet said.

Fleet decided on a career as a teacher, never thinking it would take her to the upper echelons of the province's education system.

"I set out to be a really good classroom teacher. I guess people saw me as a fit or thought I could take on the leadership," said the CEO and director of education for the Nova Central School District, based in Gander.

Fleet oversees a geographically expansive district with 66 schools, nearly 13,000 students, approximately 2,000 full- and part-time employees, and an operating budget of nearly $114 million.

It's one of four regional school districts in Newfoundland and Labrador (there is also a French school board that oversees five schools), but Fleet is the only female director of education in a province where 70 per cent of teachers and administrators are female. At the assistant director level, 13 of the 14 positions are held by men.

The gender imbalance has been the subject of studies and research papers, and Fleet has often been probed by experts seeking to explain the disparity.

She said the answer is not a complicated one. It boils down to family commitments, and the time, effort and sacrifices required to be a senior administrator.

She said it's not uncommon for her to work weekends, holidays and weeknights. And when most teachers are enjoying a vacation from late June to early September, the pace often accelerates at the district office. She said many males wouldn't be willing to take on such a task, let alone women with families.

"We have quite a number of females here in our district office, but not females with young children. They either have no children or their children are grown up," said Fleet.

Fleet spent most of her career in Labrador, working as a teacher and administrator at schools in Wabush, Labrador City and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and later as an assistant director and director of education. In 2006, she was offered a five-year contract with the Nova Central School District.

Fleet didn't experience any barriers during her rise through the ranks, and said many of her mentors were men, who often encouraged her to apply for more senior positions. She would make it clear during interviews that she would only accept a job on the condition that her gender was not a factor.

"I would be disappointed if I were told I were being appointed because I am a female," she said.

But as a mother of three, she feels she had to overcome more challenges than her male counterparts. While studying during the summer at university in St. John's, for example, her children accompanied her from Labrador. She had to arrange for childcare and had to work late at night, after her children were in bed.

"There were a lot of guys in my class doing courses, but their families were not in St. John's. They were home with their moms during the summer," Fleet recalled.

She said males outnumber females "by far" when responding to administrative job competitions in her district, despite the fact that more and more females are suitably qualified.

She believes many teachers pursue a masters degree in order to advance on the pay scale, and not necessarily to become an administrator. To earn a Level VII teaching certificate, for example, a teacher must have a masters.

Another factor, Fleet added, is that those working at the senior levels work year-round, while those represented by the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association work during the school year, which runs from September to June. When comparing the daily rate of pay, Fleet said it's likely that a school administrator would earn more than many senior managers.

What's more, Fleet's district covers a large geographical area, and board staff are often required to do a substantial amount of travel, often staying overnight. As a result, she said, the district has experienced difficulty recruiting and retaining female program specialists.

"It's because of family. They're very reluctant to be on the road," Fleet noted.

"From what I have seen in staffing here in Nova Central, there are females who are interested in the positions, but for family reasons either don't apply or turn down positions."

Considering her own experience, Fleet is not surprised that the number of females in education is not reflected at the administrative level. She's also not alarmed by the imbalance, which she said is slowly disappearing as more females become principals and vice-principals.

"The question is do females want to aspire to educational leadership?" she asked.

Look for Part II in Saturday's edition of The Weekend

troberts@thetelegram.com




GENDER BREAKDOWN

Here is a breakdown of the full-time equivalent teachers and administrators by position and gender for the current school year:
Position Male Female Total
Director
of education 4 1 5
Regional
education officer 4 1 5
Assistant director 13 1 14
Senior education
officer 13 12 25
Program specialist 16 24 40
Principal 165 115 280
Vice-principal 97 115 212
Classroom teacher 999 2,544 3,544
Department head 124 111 235

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander St. John's Wabush Happy Valley Goose Bay

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Recent comments

  • Juanita
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Doug from AB said:

    Her comment about having to work weekends, holiday's and week nights and that most males wouldn't take on such a task tells a little more about her attitude.

    Not only sexist but obviously a poor work ethic as well. Granted she looks a little long in the tooth to be from the entitlement generation.

    Find a CEO position out there that doesn't require such a work ethic....Suck it it buttercup, it takes hard work and long hours to make it to the top and stick around.

    Ms. Fleet didn't at any point in this article say anything about not being happy to dedicate the hours of extra work to the position; she was just describing the type of work required, and explaining that because of those intense time requirements, many women often aren't able to take such a position, as they often have family committments. That's not sexist, that's just stating facts.

    As for the suck it up buttercup ....now THAT is sexist. I was a student at a school where Ms. Fleet taught, and there was no more dedicated, hard-working teacher in the school. And a complainer, she wasn't.

    Kudos, Ms. Fleet, on your accomplishments. And please ignore the pathetically negative comments on this board. Clearly people aren't comfortable with strong, successful women.

  • Baron
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    What a shocker, all the negative nellies are on this board trying to pull down a successful woman (except Mike Deering...thank you, Mike!).

    And I'm a man, so don't give me the bias rant people!

    I'm interested to hear what all these negative posters have accomplished in their lives, what they have done to better society, build a fortune, get a head, be successful, etc.

    Fact: your mindset is reflected in your postings here today - and that is why YOU are where you are today.

    Think about it.

  • Calvin
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Another story here is that only 28 percent of classroom teachers are male. I wonder what that phenomenon is about, and what are its implications?

  • Randall
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Funny thing you never see the following quote on a headstone :
    I wish I had spent more time at work.
    There's more to life than work. Its too bad some executive types feel families and children are a liability when climbing to the top of whatever heap they want to get to so they can look down upon others who put familes and children before accumulating material wealth and success .

  • g-man
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    i also think these remarks were very sexest and this women should be made to retract her statement..i couldnt believe what i read.i think its fantastic to see women have better oppertunities in jobs,,but this is a little of what i have always thought about women in high places,and this only confirms it..what an idiotic remark..if a man said this,women all over would be freaking.

  • Teen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Sorry folks - Ms. Fleet is simply telling it like it is, not making a sexist judgement at all...perhaps it is our society that needs further reflection on the status quo.

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Doug from AB i think you completely misunderstood her comments about males working long hours. Her point is that many men do not want to work long hours and even more women don't like to work long hours due to traditionally having more duties at home. I think her overall point is grounded in reality, many women stay away from adminstrative positions from personal or outside pressure to spend more time at home.

  • Michelle
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    As a fellow professional, I agree that achieving professional success takes drive and committment and I commend Cindy Fleet on her accomplishments.

    However, I too found her comments sexist and in my opinion denotes an over inflated sense of self.

  • M
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Mental note: never agree to an interview! It usually creates havoc for the person who has agreed to share a story w/the public! I can not imagine how Ms. Fleet feels having read such harsh comments from ppl who do not even know her!

    This article, like any publication, is open to interpretation. Again though, we see that negativity is alive and well in NL! What a shame...

  • Brian L
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    This is what runs our education system?

    God help us.

  • Mike
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    As a former student under Cindy Fleet's administration during her time in Labrador I feel like I have to defend her and her statements. When other administrators used to be on vacation Ms. Fleet was always available whether at her desk or at home. She was always involved in the schools and in her community.

    Anybody who is willing to put down any of her work during her 30 odd years of service should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Marie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Why would someone with such a sexist attitude - professed publicly be managing a predominently male group of employees?

    I think she should be removed from her position....men should be apauled by her comment.

  • g-man
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    to byron from the bedroom community(mt.pearl)..u had the second idiotic remark today.does anyone see a brown spot on miss fleets nose ? sounds like she done alot of brown nosing to me.and finally,you dont need an education to understand ignorance and sexizm.so get a life byron.

  • Frank M
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Many of our people have worked extra hours without pay or thanks, from fisherman to store workers to senior officials, so nothing to cry or boast about there.

    Ms Fleet has inflated sense of self. Most of us do not have the opportunity to have it published.

  • Dan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    The best thing that ever happened to the Labrador School Disctrict is when Cindy Fleet left. What we gained, Central lost.

  • Steve
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Some women choose to work longer hours and devote less time to their families, some women choose to work less hours and devote more time to their families. Good for them either way. All I ask is that for women not to lay the guilt trip on men because we don't go through the same emotional turmoil. And that is all this article is, a tranference of guilt. She blames the lack of female executives on the decision women are forced to make but at the same time admits many of her male coworkers encouraged her. Ladies, you have every right to do whatever you want but please leave us men out of it.

  • Doug
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I agree with you Marie.

    How could somebody get to that level in their professional career with such a poor attitude?

    Her comment about having to work weekends, holiday's and week nights and that most males wouldn't take on such a task tells a little more about her attitude.

    Not only sexist but obviously a poor work ethic as well. Granted she looks a little long in the tooth to be from the entitlement generation.

    Find a CEO position out there that doesn't require such a work ethic....Suck it it buttercup, it takes hard work and long hours to make it to the top and stick around.

    Makes me wonder if Ms. Fleet didn't get the position based on gender?? Perhaps in an attempt to help balance male female ratio.

    Time to step down Ms. Fleet, perhaps you can go back to teaching at an all girls school.

  • Brian
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Cindy Fleet was a force to be reckoned with when she was in JRSC in Wabush. She demanded respect and she got it! She wanted everyone to believe in themselves and have respect for yourself. She put a lot of people on the right track here in Labrador West and she deserves credit....not crude remarks...for her accomplishments. Congrats Cindy!!

  • Albert
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    This woman taught me in Wabush in the late 80's, and believed in me and my abilities when many did not. She was an inspiration to me, and this led to me eventually attending university and obtaining my B.A. in English. How can you people tear strips off her back for being hard working while others were not. An amazing person!!

  • Juanita
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Doug from AB said:

    Her comment about having to work weekends, holiday's and week nights and that most males wouldn't take on such a task tells a little more about her attitude.

    Not only sexist but obviously a poor work ethic as well. Granted she looks a little long in the tooth to be from the entitlement generation.

    Find a CEO position out there that doesn't require such a work ethic....Suck it it buttercup, it takes hard work and long hours to make it to the top and stick around.

    Ms. Fleet didn't at any point in this article say anything about not being happy to dedicate the hours of extra work to the position; she was just describing the type of work required, and explaining that because of those intense time requirements, many women often aren't able to take such a position, as they often have family committments. That's not sexist, that's just stating facts.

    As for the suck it up buttercup ....now THAT is sexist. I was a student at a school where Ms. Fleet taught, and there was no more dedicated, hard-working teacher in the school. And a complainer, she wasn't.

    Kudos, Ms. Fleet, on your accomplishments. And please ignore the pathetically negative comments on this board. Clearly people aren't comfortable with strong, successful women.

  • Baron
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    What a shocker, all the negative nellies are on this board trying to pull down a successful woman (except Mike Deering...thank you, Mike!).

    And I'm a man, so don't give me the bias rant people!

    I'm interested to hear what all these negative posters have accomplished in their lives, what they have done to better society, build a fortune, get a head, be successful, etc.

    Fact: your mindset is reflected in your postings here today - and that is why YOU are where you are today.

    Think about it.

  • Calvin
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Another story here is that only 28 percent of classroom teachers are male. I wonder what that phenomenon is about, and what are its implications?

  • Randall
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Funny thing you never see the following quote on a headstone :
    I wish I had spent more time at work.
    There's more to life than work. Its too bad some executive types feel families and children are a liability when climbing to the top of whatever heap they want to get to so they can look down upon others who put familes and children before accumulating material wealth and success .

  • g-man
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    i also think these remarks were very sexest and this women should be made to retract her statement..i couldnt believe what i read.i think its fantastic to see women have better oppertunities in jobs,,but this is a little of what i have always thought about women in high places,and this only confirms it..what an idiotic remark..if a man said this,women all over would be freaking.

  • Teen
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Sorry folks - Ms. Fleet is simply telling it like it is, not making a sexist judgement at all...perhaps it is our society that needs further reflection on the status quo.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Doug from AB i think you completely misunderstood her comments about males working long hours. Her point is that many men do not want to work long hours and even more women don't like to work long hours due to traditionally having more duties at home. I think her overall point is grounded in reality, many women stay away from adminstrative positions from personal or outside pressure to spend more time at home.

  • Michelle
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    As a fellow professional, I agree that achieving professional success takes drive and committment and I commend Cindy Fleet on her accomplishments.

    However, I too found her comments sexist and in my opinion denotes an over inflated sense of self.

  • M
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Mental note: never agree to an interview! It usually creates havoc for the person who has agreed to share a story w/the public! I can not imagine how Ms. Fleet feels having read such harsh comments from ppl who do not even know her!

    This article, like any publication, is open to interpretation. Again though, we see that negativity is alive and well in NL! What a shame...

  • Brian L
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    This is what runs our education system?

    God help us.

  • Mike
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    As a former student under Cindy Fleet's administration during her time in Labrador I feel like I have to defend her and her statements. When other administrators used to be on vacation Ms. Fleet was always available whether at her desk or at home. She was always involved in the schools and in her community.

    Anybody who is willing to put down any of her work during her 30 odd years of service should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Marie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Why would someone with such a sexist attitude - professed publicly be managing a predominently male group of employees?

    I think she should be removed from her position....men should be apauled by her comment.

  • g-man
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    to byron from the bedroom community(mt.pearl)..u had the second idiotic remark today.does anyone see a brown spot on miss fleets nose ? sounds like she done alot of brown nosing to me.and finally,you dont need an education to understand ignorance and sexizm.so get a life byron.

  • Frank M
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Many of our people have worked extra hours without pay or thanks, from fisherman to store workers to senior officials, so nothing to cry or boast about there.

    Ms Fleet has inflated sense of self. Most of us do not have the opportunity to have it published.

  • Dan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    The best thing that ever happened to the Labrador School Disctrict is when Cindy Fleet left. What we gained, Central lost.

  • Steve
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Some women choose to work longer hours and devote less time to their families, some women choose to work less hours and devote more time to their families. Good for them either way. All I ask is that for women not to lay the guilt trip on men because we don't go through the same emotional turmoil. And that is all this article is, a tranference of guilt. She blames the lack of female executives on the decision women are forced to make but at the same time admits many of her male coworkers encouraged her. Ladies, you have every right to do whatever you want but please leave us men out of it.

  • Doug
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    I agree with you Marie.

    How could somebody get to that level in their professional career with such a poor attitude?

    Her comment about having to work weekends, holiday's and week nights and that most males wouldn't take on such a task tells a little more about her attitude.

    Not only sexist but obviously a poor work ethic as well. Granted she looks a little long in the tooth to be from the entitlement generation.

    Find a CEO position out there that doesn't require such a work ethic....Suck it it buttercup, it takes hard work and long hours to make it to the top and stick around.

    Makes me wonder if Ms. Fleet didn't get the position based on gender?? Perhaps in an attempt to help balance male female ratio.

    Time to step down Ms. Fleet, perhaps you can go back to teaching at an all girls school.

  • Brian
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Cindy Fleet was a force to be reckoned with when she was in JRSC in Wabush. She demanded respect and she got it! She wanted everyone to believe in themselves and have respect for yourself. She put a lot of people on the right track here in Labrador West and she deserves credit....not crude remarks...for her accomplishments. Congrats Cindy!!

  • Albert
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    This woman taught me in Wabush in the late 80's, and believed in me and my abilities when many did not. She was an inspiration to me, and this led to me eventually attending university and obtaining my B.A. in English. How can you people tear strips off her back for being hard working while others were not. An amazing person!!