The Bellevue School Board has named three finalists under consideration to be the district’s next superintendent. A decision is expected later this month.
Three educators with experience in large urban districts with ethnically diverse student populations are finalists for the top job in the Bellevue School District. Two have recently been finalists for other superintendent jobs, and all three come with some controversies from their tenures in previous districts.
The Bellevue School Board, along with teachers, parents and community leaders, just completed three days of interviews with the finalists and are expected to announce a decision at the March 21 School Board meeting.
The finalists are Joel Boyd, a former superintendent in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Katrise Perera, a 2015 national superintendent of the yearfrom Isle of Wight County Schools in Smithfield, Virginia; and Ivan Duran, deputy superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District in Texas.
Although Bellevue is one of the top performing school districts in the state, it is increasingly facing big-city challenges including a rapidly diversifying student population — almost 34 percent of children now speak a first language other than English — and a stubborn achievement gap. While almost 80 percent of white students met proficiency standards in eighth-grade math last year, just 47 percent of low-income and 37 percent of Hispanic students did so.
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School-district leaders and parents say they are looking for someone with the skills to respond to the city’s ethnic and economic diversity as well as someone who can help close the achievement gaps.
The current superintendent, Tim Mills, is retiring after four years in the district. He’s earned a reputation as a low-key, collaborative leader, a welcome change from the tumult of his recent predecessors: Amalia Cudeiro, who received a no-confidence vote from teachers in 2011, and the late Mike Riley, whose efforts to create a Web-based common curriculum contributed to a teacher strike in 2008, a year after he left the job.
“Dr. Mills’ successor is going to have big shoes to fill,” said Michele Miller, an instructional mentor in Bellevue Schools and president of the Sammamish UniServ, a consortium of local teachers unions in Bellevue and seven other Eastside school districts.
“He has introduced a respectful, collaborative leadership style with the ability to bring people together and problem solve. We’re light years from where we were six years ago.”
Miller declined to comment on the finalists but praised the School Board for its open hiring process that included the opportunity for different staff groups to meet privately with each candidate and submit written responses.
One parent in the district said she is looking for a superintendent who can inspire principals and teachers and is sensitive to the needs of students from different backgrounds and with different learning styles.
“The district is experiencing a huge influx of immigrants. There are issues that need to be tackled,” said Allison Frey, who has three kids in Bellevue Schools. Frey is also on the board of the Dean Witter Foundation, a small family foundation that supports innovation in K-12 education.
Boyd, the former Santa Fe superintendent, improved graduation rates across the district and opened an alternative high school in that city that helped struggling students. But his initial efforts to hire a for-profit, out-of-state education firm to run the alternative school met with complaints that he was trying to privatize public schools.
And in 2016 he was denounced by the president of the Santa Fe teachers union, who called him “dismissive, arrogant and condescending,” at a School Board meeting. He later was quoted saying that the district’s internal surveys showed morale and job satisfaction in the district had gone up under his leadership.
Boyd left the following month for a job with a Bay-area educational software company. He was a finalist for a superintendent job in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2015, and in Nashville in 2016. Before coming to Santa Fe, he was an administrator in school districts in Miami and Philadelphia.
He told the Bellevue community forum Wednesday that his heart is in public education and that he shouldn’t have left for the private sector.
“Equity and diversity are my core commitments. High-quality education is a fundamental civil right for every kid,” Boyd said.
Perera, a 2015 national superintendent of the year, was an area superintendent for the Houston Independent School District before taking over as superintendent of Isle of Wight County Schools, a small Virginia district of nine schools with 5,504 students. During her tenure, Isle of Wight Schools rose from 41st in the state in academic achievement to 14th. She also led the turnaround of two underperforming middle schools as a principal with the Henrico County Public Schools in Richmond, Virginia.
Perera was a finalist in January for superintendent of the school district in Huntsville, Alabama, and in February for the top schools job in Bridgeport, Connecticut. But her candidacy was shadowed by accusations that she had plagiarized a superintendent entry plan from a Texas superintendent, Michael McFarland. McFarland told the Huntsville School Board in a letter that he and Perera were students together in a superintendents’ seminar and both helped develop the entry plan.
At her community forum in Bellevue on Thursday, Perera said working in diverse schools is what she’s done throughout her career.
“As educators, we have a moral imperative to serve every kid every day without excuses,” she said.
Duran, the final candidate, was, until last year, an assistant superintendent for elementary education in the Denver Public Schools, where he focused on literacy and using data to improve classroom instruction. During his leadership, Denver elementary schools improved significantly in language arts and math.
But while in Denver, Latino parents in one elementary complained that their children were forced to eat lunch on the floor as discipline for minor infractions, and some were frustrated that district administrators didn’t fire the principal.
For the past year Duran has been deputy superintendent in Dallas, where he is responsible for all academic programs.
Duran met with Bellevue school district and community members Friday. He said the discrimination he faced as a Hispanic student in Denver led him to be an advocate for marginalized kids. “I want to create an environment in Bellevue where students can find success and not feel alienated but included,” he said.
The Bellevue superintendent position currently pays $282,000, making it the fourth-highest-paid of such posts in the state after the Seattle, Mukilteo and Vancouver school districts.