The regional and local chapters of the NAACP are calling for the Seattle School Board to terminate Superintendent Denise Juneau’s contract, claiming she has “exacerbated racism” throughout the district.
Leaders from the chapters, along with students, gathered at a news conference Tuesday in front of district headquarters. They say Juneau has failed to make progress on the demands they’ve been asking for, including better outcomes for Black students, mandatory and districtwide ethnic studies classes, and more engagement with Black families. They also say the district lost a number of Black men in leadership positions since Juneau assumed the role, and that it dropped the ball on reaching students of color during the pandemic.
In response to a request for comment, district spokesperson Tim Robinson sent a long list of Seattle Public Schools (SPS) racial equity initiatives, including the creation of an Office for African American Achievement, community engagement events and a reduction in discipline rates for Black students.
Brandon Hersey, a board member, said the NAACP’s demand was “completely justified.”
“We need to be listening to the youth, and we need to be listening to specifically Black families in the system,” Hersey said. He said he could not provide more information on the board’s discussions of Juneau’s contract.
The call reflects years of brewing tension between some Seattle civil rights activists — many of them students and district employees — and the district’s leadership.
Many who were at the news conference routinely voice dissatisfaction with the district at School Board meetings, and were among the voices who successfully advocated for the district to halt its partnership with the Seattle Police Department in June. They say they remain unconvinced that Juneau will succeed in the district’s promise to “unapologetically serve” Black male students, a line in its strategic plan.
“We get lip service,” said Carolyn Riley-Payne, president of the Seattle/King County NAACP. “We don’t see the improvement we need to see.”
Gian Rosario and Naj Ali, graduates of Rainier Beach High School and members of the NAACP’s Youth Coalition, said they felt Juneau has been dismissive toward their demands for ethnic studies, and that her efforts to reach out to students were “photo ops.”
Juneau’s contract includes stipulations that she must make progress toward a number of goals, including that 100% of African American boys meet state standards for literacy. School Board documents from the summer show third-grade reading proficiency for that population was down slightly in the 2018-19 school year, her first year on the job, from 33% meeting standards to 30%. There was a slight uptick for boys’ overall scores in third through fifth grade.
Seattle School Board President Zachary DeWolf said the board would vote on Juneau’s contract Dec. 16.
There are circles of support for Juneau. A group of nonprofit and education leaders across the city penned a letter to the School Board urging the district to retain Juneau and renew the contract. They said a new leader would further destabilize the district.
“No leader is perfect — not Superintendent Juneau — not the signers of this letter, and not any of our SPS School Board Directors. Superintendent Juneau has made mistakes and missteps, but she is also making significant progress, and we believe she can lead the District to critical new milestones,” read the letter, whose signees included Mia Tuan, University of Washington College of Education dean; Dwane Chappelle, who directs the city’s education department; and Estela Ortega, the director of El Centro de la Raza.
Juneau has been superintendent since July 2018. She is the third superintendent to lead the district in the past eight years, and the seventh superintendent since 2000.