The Seattle School Board's unanimous selection of José Banda as the next district superintendent came after 3-1/2 hours of closed-door deliberations Sunday night, officials said. The choice is expected to be formalized at a public meeting Wednesday.
The man tapped as the next leader of Seattle’s public schools said Monday he plans to spend his first year on the job getting to know the city without making major changes.
José Banda, 55, superintendent of the Anaheim (Calif.) City School District, said his top priority will be to build a foundation of trust between administrators, employees and parents.
“Then, we can move mountains,” he said.
The Seattle School Board’s unanimous selection of Banda came after 3 ½ hours of closed-door deliberations Sunday night, officials said. The choice is expected to be formalized at a public meeting Wednesday.
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In choosing Banda over the only remaining finalist, Sandra Husk, board members opted for a low-key leader with a reputation for relationship-building. Board members said they chose him because they believe he can unite the community behind a collaborative approach that encourages parent involvement and emphasizes the importance of working in concert with the board.
“I think in Seattle, we can use both a strong superintendent and a strong board,” School Board member Marty McLaren said. “I think we need that team. And that was one of the hallmarks of José Banda’s approach. That he considers us a team.”
The move to Seattle would represent a significant step up for Banda, who now runs an elementary-only school district with about 20,000 students, less than half the size of Seattle Public Schools.
Here, he would lead a district dealing with budget cuts, overcrowding and a stark gap between the academic performance of wealthy and poor students. His first challenges would include hiring several new senior staffers, rallying support for more than $1 billion in ballot measures, and restoring confidence after a financial scandal led to last year’s firing of Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson.
Fifth chief in decade
Banda would start July 1, the day after interim Superintendent Susan Enfield leaves for the Highline School District. He would become the fifth Seattle schools chief in the past decade.
While some community members said they look forward to Banda’s engaging style, others wonder if his experience adequately prepares him to head this state’s largest school district, with about 48,500 students.
“I think we are setting Mr. Banda up to fail,” said Heidi Bennett, regional legislative chair for the state PTA.
Banda said those who criticize him as lacking broad experience are not considering his work as a high-school principal and deputy superintendent in a K-12 district.
He said he has a “strong resolve.”
“When things need to be done,” he said, “I’m going to make sure it’s done.”
McLaren called Banda a calm leader who can create trust and continue the district’s gains in test scores and enrollment.
She said there were concerns that Husk, schools chief in Oregon’s Salem-Keizer district, would come in with a more set agenda and be less collaborative.
But some Seattle parents and community leaders said Husk would have been the more dynamic leader, better suited to bring dramatic change to a district in need of it.
Husk announced Monday morning — after the Seattle School Board chose Banda but before that decision was announced publicly — that she was taking herself out of consideration for the job, citing “competing approaches” on the School Board.
Husk declined to elaborate, but the most contentious fights since the new board took office have centered on how much power members should have in seeking change.
Board member Harium Martin-Morris said those disagreements are lessening but still exist. Members entered Sunday’s session with different viewpoints but eventually came to consensus, he said.
Paul Hill, founder of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, said the board’s decision indicates a majority of members wanted to have more control.
With Banda, Hill said, “basically all board members can assume that they can sway him and control policy.”
“You don’t normally get anything dramatic or anything that really changes the level of performance from a middle-of-the-road, don’t-rock-the-boat approach,” Hill added. “But, on the other hand, you might get some peace.”
Banda was informed of the board’s decision in a Sunday night call from board President Michael DeBell.
As Banda picked up the phone, his 24-year-old daughter, Maritza, was there, watching her dad for a signal. He looked at her and nodded. She then went running into another room.
“She probably did a little yelling and dancing,” Banda said. “She was very excited.”
Banda said he is, too.
“I look forward to coming to Seattle,” he said, “rolling up my sleeves and working with the board, the staff and the community to effect the change they want to happen.”
He said he would first reach out to senior employees in the district.
“They know my background, but that’s not enough,” he said.
That background includes 30 years in education, first as a teacher and then as a principal and superintendent.
His experience in school leadership includes a superintendency in the tiny Planada (Calif.) Elementary School District and a deputy superintendent job in the Oceanside (Calif.) Unified School District.
He has spent four years in Anaheim. In that time, test scores have risen and the district won voter approval of a large bond measure in the middle of a recession.
Seattle School Board member Sharon Peaslee called Banda a “rising superstar.”
“This is a very, very special person,” Peaslee said in a Monday news conference announcing the board’s decision. “He’s calm, respectful and effective.”
But some in Seattle aren’t so sure.
Some parents and groups working to shake up public education said they preferred the more forceful style of Husk.
Anne Martens, spokeswoman for the local chapter of Stand for Children, a national advocacy organization, said the group was disappointed the board didn’t select Husk but looks forward to working with Banda. .
Loretta Scott, whose grandchildren attend Bryant Elementary School, said she was shocked.
“Are they nuts?” she asked.
But Jonathan Knapp, president-elect of the Seattle teachers union, said Banda has the experience to do the job.
“He has worked his way up,” Knapp said. “He’s not a newbie. He has 30 years in education under his belt.”
Some parents also were more optimistic. Several said they are hopeful that Banda can unite the city.
Others, including Andrea Baumgarten, executive vice president of the of Seattle Council PTSA, said they are encouraged by what they hear of Banda’s ability to engage parents.
But Bob Watt, a former Seattle deputy mayor, said the city will have to wait to see how its next superintendent leads.
“Let’s be real here — we’re all just speculating,” Watt said. “Really, only time will tell. But we’ll all be watching closely. Because it really matters.”
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195
On Twitter @brianmrosenthal