Gainesville's top school administrator was recently recognized as one of more than 50 excellent female school leaders across the country.
Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer was noted as a top-notch leader with the Women in School Leadership Award, which was started this year by the American Association of School Administrators and Farmers Insurance Group.
"I'm still surprised. When I first heard about it, I thought the award would only go to women who have been superintendents for an extended period of time," said Dyer, who took the helm of the Gainesville school district in July 2008.
"Then I found out it was much broader when I was recommended for it by colleagues at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business."
Dyer's application was supported by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business-Executive Leaders in Education, Joe Ethier with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the University of California at Los Angeles Center of Mental Health in Schools.
"Like many fields, education is still dominated by men in leadership roles, with about 17 percent of superintendents as female," Dyer said.
"This new award recognizes that the numbers are rising, but the field is often challenging for women to become successful."
The Darden School of Business recognized Dyer, who is Gainesville's first female superintendent, for reorganizing the school system after a $6.5 million deficit came in 2008.
The school conducted a case study on how the Gainesville district pulled through the budget crunch and maintained leadership.
"Merrianne Dyer is truly one of the most community-minded people I've ever met. Her soul interest, over the course of her career, has been to better the youth of Hall County," said Joe Ethier, executive director of the Hall County Boys & Girls Clubs.
"She's a community gem who has been an integral part of establishing a good relationship with our organization and other social service organizations in Hall County. We've been able to provide after-school programs for at-risk kids, which is at the heart of what she's trying to achieve."
After an initial nomination process, 51 superintendents, principals and instructors were noted as excellent examples of leadership for learning, effective communication, professionalism and community involvement.
"We want to promote that ever increasing number of women in school leadership," said Sharon Mullen, director of awards for the American Association of School Administrators.
"There's also a need out there for women to mentor each other and come together to network. We hope this award will give that opportunity for women to listen to others."
The award recipients will be recognized Feb. 17-19 at the National Conference on Education in Denver, Colo., and four women will be named the 2011 finalists.
"The Farmers Insurance Group is focusing on women in leadership this year, and they really wanted to do something to acknowledge those who work hard in our schools and provide excellent educational services," said MaryAnn Jobe, director of leadership development for American Association of School Administrators.
"These women are going above and beyond in their jobs, and we want to pay tribute to their talent, creativity and vision."
Dyer recently attended a current education issues conference hosted by the American Association of School Administrators, which focused on how women can use their skills to address issues systemwide. After listening to female speakers and pairing up with different leaders, Dyer is excited about the mentorship possibilities.
"In one small discussion group, I was paired with an assistant principal from Detroit, and we learned so many things. I don't have a long breadth of experience as superintendent, but I've done a lot of different things," Dyer said.
"I learned from her there is a younger generation of female leaders who aren't waiting to raise their families before entering administration. Many are stepping out and doing it younger, and I admire so much that they're taking the risk and stepping out."