Utah women in education are climbing into administrative seats more than ever, with numbers more than doubling to 33 percent of all principals in the past decade, said state Deputy Superintendent Laurie Chivers.

"Currently there are five women superintendents in Utah, and increasingly more assistant superintendents. I applaud this trend," Chivers told about 150 female educators at the Utah Women Educational Administrators Association annual conference Friday.Salt Lake City, Tintic, Washington and Park City school districts are led by women, plus Chivers at the state level. Utah has 40 school districts. Women make up 69 percent of certified education personnel, yet two thirds of principals are men.

"Utah also has very little specific data about male/female comparisons in education, probably because there were so few women for so long," Chivers said.

Consider the mid-1970s, when all superintendents and secondary school principals were men and Utah's 296 elementary schools had just 11 female principals, said former 20-year legislator Beverly White.

"It was very sad when we got this message," she said. Particularly disheartening for her was a response to a letter detailing the numbers and sent to all superintendents. A past Logan superintendent wrote that women school bosses were less productive than men and that he refused to appoint women to administrative positions.

The letter was forwarded to Washington, D.C., and an investigation was launched, culminating in the superintendent's temporary suspension, White recalled. Those sympathetic to the superintendent said he was ambushed by women legislators.

Today, numbers gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics in 1987-88 and 1993-94 point to an upward trend for administration opportunities for women.

Nationally, 35 percent of public school principals were female four years ago, up from 25 percent last decade. The trend is concentrated in elementary schools, where women comprised 30 percent of principals last decade, compared to 41 percent in 1993-94. More recent numbers show 48 percent of newly hired principals were female, up from 41 percent last decade.

But numbers show women take longer to get to administration and have been there for a shorter period of time: the average male public school principal had 10 years teaching experience and was a principal for 10 years, whereas the average female had 13 years teaching experience and had been a principal for six years.

The number of women principals differs with school locale and district size. Urban schools had 41 percent women principals in 1993-94; rural public schools had 25 percent female principals. Districts with more than 10,000 students had 47 percent female principals; those under 1,000 had 21 percent.

Nationally, average salaries for male and female principals in the public schools are about the same, with men earning $54,922 and women, $54,736.

"I think that this is a great time to be in the work force as a woman," Chivers said. "Neither success nor failure is confined to one sex. I am confident that women, who look at many things differently than men, will have a positive impact on education for children. And that is what being an educator is all about."