The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) proudly celebrates this year a quarter century of advocating for girls’ schools. Consider the shifts in the educational landscape over the last 25 years, and you will see the impact of the Coalition. The early days of the feminist movement and the Title IX push for equal access placed all-girls schools at risk. Although coeducation had been the norm in public schools in the U.S. since the mid-nineteenth century, the social changes occurring in the 1970s helped solidify coeducation as the universally accepted standard in both public and independent education. Men’s colleges and secondary schools, wanting to respond to the feminist cry for equal access while also seeing the enrollment advantages in widening their applicant pools, opened their doors to women and girls. Suddenly, single-sex institutions were no longer seen as a natural alternative. Despite the historic role of girls’ schools in providing quality education for girls, single-sex education was seen as anachronistic.
Girls’ school educators knew otherwise and recognized the urgent need to change the climate and the conversation.
I had the pleasure of hearing from the Coalition’s founding Co-Executive Directors, Margaret “Meg” Moulton and Whitney “Whitty” Ransome, regarding their reflections on 25 years of the Coalition, what the NCGS community means to them, and how the girls’ school landscape has changed.
MEGAN MURPHY: I know it’s hard to believe, but NCGS was founded under your leadership 25 years ago. Congratulations! I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on the past 25 years of the Coalition.
MEG MOULTON: NCGS did for girls’ schools in the 90s (and continues to do so) what Gloria Steinem did for women in the 70s. It gave girls’ schools a voice and a place on the map. They were no longer referred to as “dinosaurs.” “Dynamite” was used to reference their stature and impact.
WHITTY RANSOME: We never dreamed during the late 1980s when NCGS was being conceived that so few could accomplish so much. Long before it became the norm, four of us ran NCGS as a virtual office with shared leadership roles, all on a shoestring budget. We became social entrepreneurs, supporting an engaged and committed Board in realizing common goals. The work of our volunteers matched and complemented the work of our incomparable professional colleagues!
MEG: Seeds were planted at the Coalition’s start. Those seeds are now bearing fruit. They will continue to do so given NCGS’ ability to ride the crest of the wave and to seek new opportunities to collaborate, serve its members, and advocate for girls and their education in a continually changing world. Megan, you and your team have excelled in your abilities to raise the curtain. The Board of Trustees, in its wisdom, has never failed to provide valuable strategic guidance in charting the organization’s next and future steps. NCGS remains strong, vital, and hasn’t forgotten to tip its hat and make its mark.
MEGAN: Thank you! NCGS is what it is today thanks to the dedicated passion you two brought to the organization. You shared your talents to advance girls’ education. What does NCGS and the girls’ school community mean to you?
WHITTY: Co-founding and co-directing NCGS has been the most fulfilling work of my career. My years with NCGS are about deep passion: a calling, not just a job. It’s been my honor to serve the thousands of women and men who expect the best from their girls and get it! NCGS’ success depends on the power of collaboration, connections, creativity, and partnerships. One of our former Board chairs called Meg and me “the guerilla girls” suggesting a can-do attitude on everything we undertook.
MEG: There is no question that Whitty and I take great pride in helping to give NCGS its legs at the start. NCGS reflects attributes that I would like to model in my life and hope that girls in our tomorrow will model them as well—strength of purpose, belief in one’s possibilities, the self-confidence to lead, a humbleness that allows one to join hands with others, the nerve to take informed risks, a belief in the power of one’s voice to be heard, and the drive to make a difference. The girls’ school community is a sisterhood of schools and colleagues who value education and are committed to a belief in the power of women to lead by example and to be change agents. It is a community of leaders and doers who have realized that, through their actions, there are many avenues on which to travel that impact girls and women directly and indirectly.
MEGAN: I can think of so many ways your influence is still felt today at NCGS from a continued dedication to research to providing valuable professional development opportunities. What are your proudest NCGS accomplishments?
WHITTY: Yes, using both qualitative and quantitative research to document outcomes and creating ways to serve our membership through conferences and professional development are among our proudest accomplishments for NCGS. Along with moving girls’ schools from surviving to thriving, helping build increased enrollments, positioning girls’ schools as thought leaders on multiple topics (STEM, civic engagement, leadership, global involvement, financial literacy, and countless other areas), data collection publications, and media work.
MEG: I am proud of what Whitty and I accomplished together at the Coalition’s start and I couldn’t be more proud of the organization today. Looking in my rear view window, I too take great pride in helping to trumpet the importance of research in documenting the value of girls’ schools. One of my greatest joys was stretching NCGS’ embrace internationally to include other girls’ school organizations and to broaden the reach of our work across national boundaries. NCGS was one of the first organizations to thinking globally and to begin to define programming that speaks to global citizenship. The upcoming Global Forum on Girls’ Education is a testament to the Coalition’s continued stature as a trusted leader, facilitator, responder to issues (and opportunities!) confronting girls worldwide.
MEGAN: How has the girls’ school landscape changed over the past 25 years?
MEG: Dramatically! A far more receptive audience is in place. Other agencies have invested in the education of girls worldwide. Girls’ public schools have opened with great success around this country and beyond due, in part, to NCGS’ active support in tilling the soil. Who would have imagined an increase in NCGS membership from 56 schools in 1991 to 200 in 2016, that new girls’ school would open, enrollment would grow, and impressive new levels of philanthropic support would be achieved?
WHITTY: Yes, the biggest change since 1991 has been the remarkable increase in enrollments and the establishment of new public and private girls’ schools in the U.S. and around the world. I attribute the resurgence of all-girls education to a savvy use of research, public relations, and the media. Coupled with the development of a common vocabulary describing the benefits and outcomes of an all-girls education, NCGS has positioned girls’ schools as thought-leaders on what strategies work best with girls.
MEG: In its 25 years, NCGS has become a respected worldwide advocate for the education of girls. Its members and public are singing the same song—girls matter, girls’ schools change lives.
MEGAN: Looking ahead to the next 25 years, what do you envision for the future of girls’ schools?
WHITTY: Harnessing the power of social media and other innovative technology as we did with print and TV, continuing international links, giving voice to girls who are denied education, and never underestimating the power of girls and women to change the world!
MEG: Girls’ schools and the education of girls have earned their place. NCGS will continue to weave its way into its future—rising to challenges and realizing opportunities. Garth Nix wrote, “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” I believe with continued strong leadership and an enterprising spirit, NCGS will make its path and walk on it with the confidence and unequivocal belief that girls matter. NCGS will continue to make a difference in girls’ lives through promoting educational settings and communities that value their present and future.
MEGAN: Thank you both! The resources and opportunities NCGS provides are ever-evolving and growing, but the pillars of research, professional development, advocacy, and networking holding up our mission remain as strong today as when the Coalition was formed. I recently wrote to our membership that the NCGS mantra for 2016 was connect, collaborate, convene—three words that have been at the heart of the Coalition since its inception. Thank you for setting NCGS on this path!
Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools