In an online survey, Education Lab readers wanted to know exactly how Seattle’s next superintendent will support more students of color — and whether the finalists will commit to sticking around longer than a few years.
It’s been about a month since the Seattle School Board informally agreed to find new ways to hear from more families about its search for a new superintendent.
Within days of making that pledge, however, Board members sounded exasperated with what they’ve already heard about the superintendent search.
“Folks keep coming back, saying, ‘We don’t want you to be hiring for another superintendent. We want you to stop the process,’” Board member Eden Mack said at a Feb. 7 meeting.
But, “the Board has made a decision, and we’re moving forward … so thank you, I’ve heard that,” Mack added, prompting a laugh from fellow Board member Jill Geary.
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The application to work as Seattle’s next schools chief closes Wednesday. And in the meantime, The Seattle Times and Education Lab have asked readers whether they want to delay the hiring process and what they would ask finalists for the position.
Of the 27 readers who responded to an online survey, 40 percent wanted the Board to extend current Superintendent Larry Nyland’s contract to allow for more time to find his replacement. (A final hiring decision could be made by March 26.) Another 32 percent of readers voted “maybe,” while the remaining 28 percent wanted no delay in the search process.
Their responses to open-ended questions have been edited for clarity and length.
What’s the most important question the School Board should ask finalists?
Racial equity earned a prominent place in the survey responses.
Last month, Education Lab reported on the long and frustrating history of Seattle Public Schools leaders pledging to eliminate the gaps in achievement between students of color and their white peers. And many readers who completed the survey wondered exactly how the next superintendent would finally achieve that goal.
Christine, an education researcher at the University of Washington, wanted the School Board to ask finalists, “How serious are you about doing whatever it takes to close the achievement gap in this city?”
Pat, a parent and Seattle resident, noted that although many school districts seem dedicated to racial equity, few achieve even modest success. “This has to be a priority in our city,” Pat wrote, “and we need someone with a vision for educating all kids leading the charge.”
Other readers wanted the Board to dig into each finalist’s leadership style, asking how they would rally support within the district and wider community to tackle big challenges. Seattle resident Mary also hoped to see some long-term commitment to the next superintendent, who will be the fifth schools chief hired in about 10 years: Seattle “needs someone who plans to be here longer than two to three years,” she wrote.
How should the next superintendent respond to Seattle’s ethnic and cultural diversity?
Readers urged the next superintendent to hear from as many voices as possible, with several recommending a citywide listening tour with families and educators. Several other districts — including Federal Way in South King County; Camden, New Jersey; and Atlanta Public Schools — were cited as examples to follow.
Deneen, who works with a local nonprofit, also cautioned against overlooking students: “They deserve a seat at the table to give their voice about how to solve problems in their schools.”
Other recommendations included creating more partnerships with community-based organizations, hiring more teachers of color and offering language classes for parents who don’t speak English.
“At the end of the day, most of the students just want to learn and be successful, and they deserve that opportunity,” wrote Julia, a grandparent and special education teacher.
What’s the most important things the finalists should know about Seattle and its schools?
A common theme appeared in responses to this question, with several readers warning that Seattle is not nearly as progressive as its residents might think.
“There are powerful, content upper middle class (often white) families who benefit by things staying as they are,” wrote Christine, the UW researcher. “This is a difficult nut to crack in a city that prides itself on being progressive but in actual fact doesn’t want to change things that work for them but aren’t working for poor families and families of color.”
Ali, a Seattle parent and lawyer, similarly wrote, “Candidates should know that this city has the fifth-highest opportunity/achievement gap in the nation, is very segregated and comes with a lot of baggage.”
Alex, also a parent, took a more positive tone: “The principals and teachers are generally good, the parents care — we all just need more support from the central office.”
But Doreen, a grandparent, kept it short and sweet: Schools are “improving but still have a long way to go.”
Who would you nominate for Seattle’s next schools chief?
In the survey, a couple readers went with more general answers to this question. They emphasized the next superintendent should have some experience teaching in the classroom or perhaps prior work as an accountant.
More specific nominations included:
•Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr (“He is experienced, worked in very high performing schools and knows what excellence looks like, understands the big picture, is very likable and his life story is testament to the slogan that poor kids can succeed.”)
•Calvin Watts, superintendent of Kent schools (“He is doing good things in the region at a large school district, has worked for Seattle Public Schools before … and will not be starting from scratch with respect to understanding Washington law.”)
•Flip Herndon, an associate superintendent of Seattle Public Schools (“Flip is a Seattle parent, a seasoned educator, and one who will commit to our city for the long term. He knows how to hire great people.”)
•Phil Brockman, superintendent of Sedro-Woolley schools (“Knowledgeable about the district as a former teacher, principal and administrator who worked well with all the constituencies.”)