Ann Richards once joked that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards wearing high heels.
What the top administrators of Navarro College, the City of Corsicana and the Corsicana and Mildred school districts have in common, other than being pioneers in Navarro County leadership roles, is that they’re all strong Texas women.
Everything else is different.
Cowboy boots to toe-shoes
Navarro College District President Barbara Kavalier studied dance and ballet in college before switching to education. Corsicana ISD Superintendent Diane Frost wanted to be a principal, even though she was told women don’t do that. Corsicana City Manager Connie Standridge was initially discouraged from going to college, then worked her way through Texas A&M to become an engineer. Mildred Superintendent Becky Burns was a farm girl who worked her way up the ranks to become the top administrator at the county’s wealthiest small school district.
They drew inspiration from their mothers, aunts, previous supervisors — and fathers.
Women have held power in Navarro County before. There was a female district judge during World War II, Sue Youngblood was mayor of Corsicana in the 1970s, Faith Holt was a county commissioner and is currently on the college board, and Ruby Williams has served for years on the Corsicana city council and as mayor pro tem.
However, school superintendent, college president and city manager are not elected positions. The women in these jobs were hired by mostly male trustees over other, male candidates.
Coincidence, most of these women said. They each saw their hirings as unique to that moment, independent of what was going on in the larger society.
“The women and men in leadership were selected because they are the best people for the position,” Frost said. Standridge and Kavalier echoed that sentiment.
Dr. James Price, on the Navarro College Board, said that was exactly the situation.
“I think it’s just hiring the best person available,” he said. “I think these women have done a good job. They’re qualified. They make good decisions. The chairman of the Appraisal Board, and the chief appraiser are also women. You don’t look for a woman or a man, you look for the best candidate.”
Burns said it does indicate acceptance.
“I really do not think it is either significant or coincidental,” Burns said. “Over the years the public’s perception of leadership has broadened and changed to include women in leadership roles.”
Mayor Chuck McClanahan was on the city council that hired Connie Standridge as city manager in 2005.
“If she weren’t city manager, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have agreed to throw my hat into the ring,” McClanahan said. Having her as the city’s top administrator means fewer hassles and worries for him, he said. “She’s just really consistent.”
Standridge proved herself before she was hired. She’d already been city engineer for years before that, and then served for 18 months as interim city manager before being named to the position permanently.
Frost is the first female head of CISD, the county’s largest school district, and with 720 employees, one of the county’s largest employers. The district has an annual budget of $50 million from both state and local sources.
Having female and male role models is important to kids, Frost said, but she quickly saw that her appointment had an impression on adults, as well. In those first days, many people who met her at social events assumed her husband, Ken, was the new superintendent.
“When I first moved here women came up to me and said ‘I’m so glad to have you in this position.’ I think they identified with me. I think they saw the community changing.”
She added that she believes the community would have been equally welcoming to any new superintendent, but it was an interesting reaction to the first female in the job.