As the search for a new Seattle Public Schools superintendent draws to a close, the path to this point still irks SPS parent Stephanie Jones. “I’m feeling like I woke up, [and] all of a sudden it’s the end of March and the process is over, and it has not been a particularly transparent process,” she says. As a board member of Community and Parents for Public Schools of Seattle—a nonprofit that seeks to mobilize parents to strengthen the quality of public schools—Jones has attempted to stay abreast on the search process for current Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland’s replacement, but she and other community members contend that they have mostly been left in the dark.
As the search process reopened to the public this week, teachers and parents say that they are willing to work with the superintendent, but wish that the process had involved more community input from the outset. In an open board meeting on Monday at 5 p.m., School Board members voted to select three finalist superintendent candidates: Denise Juneau, Andre Spencer, and Jeanice Swift.
Juneau holds a Master’s in Education and a Juris Doctorate, and the former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction became the first American Indian woman in the country elected to an executive statewide office when she won in 2008. She served two terms in the position until 2017.
Spencer has a background in science teaching, and holds a Master of Science and Doctor of Education degrees. For more than five years, he has been a superintendent of Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Swift holds a PhD in Educational Leadership, and has been the Superintendent of Schools in the Ann Arbor Public Schools in Michigan for nearly five years.
The community will have an opportunity to meet the finalists at a town hall meeting on Thursday, March 29 from 5–8:15 p.m. in the John Stanford Center’s auditorium. Community members can ask the superintendent finalists questions by submitting them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The town hall will be broadcast live on the District website and on SPSTV/Channel 26.
The School Board will vote to enter negotiations with the top candidate on Wednesday, April 4 at 4:15 p.m. The public will have a final chance to give the School Board feedback on the finalists through online surveys that launched Monday evening and will remain live until Thursday’s forum.
The search for Nyland’s replacement started after the School Board voted in 2016 not to renew his contract, which ends this June. Applications for the new superintendent closed on Feb. 28, and were followed by two meetings last Thursday and Friday in which labor and community organizations observed the school board interview semi-finalists. Community members in attendance offered input to the School Board for two minutes after each candidate’s interview, according to educator’s union Seattle Education Association’s President Phyllis Campano. The groups in attendance signed non-disclosure agreements that last in perpetuity, so last week’s discussions will remain a secret.
“I am optimistic and appreciate the feedback we’ve received from students, community members, staff, and taxpayers and that we will continue to receive. Each of this group of Board members takes this statutory and fiduciary duty very seriously,” Seattle School Board President Leslie Harris wrote in an email to Seattle Weekly.
Yet Campano argues that Thursday’s town hall is happening too late. The meeting places the burden on families to come to candidates, instead of bringing the finalists to the communities, she adds.
“For our lower socioeconomic families, particularly for our families of color, a lot of those families have to work two jobs, or have kids,” Campano says. “This process has not been made easy, or particularly inviting for them to come into this process.” As a district with one of the largest educational opportunity gaps in the country, Campano finds it problematic that families didn’t have more opportunities to engage in the process facilitated by Ray and Associates, Inc., the search firm chosen to find superintendent candidates. “When you exclude the people that already feel like they’ve been excluded from public education, it just makes things worse.”
Erin Okuno, an SPS parent and Executive Director of Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, has been critical of the new superintendent search process since the beginning. She says that many families are unaware that the school board is searching for Nyland’s replacement. “This process could have been used to build trust with the community,” Okuno said. Instead, the superintendent will face an uphill battle in forging connections with families.
Jones agrees that the lack of transparency in the search process will pose a hurdle for the new superintendent. “If you’re going to initiate change—which I think is on the radar of the School Board—then you set up the conditions for change to be positive, and community-driven and supportive, and not set it up with a deficit from the get-go.”