Seattle Public Schools board members need to hire a superintendent before fall, and the top candidate — at least according to city leaders and community members — is Brent Jones, the person already doing the job.
And Seattle board members are listening. The board is holding a special meeting at 8 a.m. Friday to vote on negotiating Jones’ contract. If approved, the contract would come before the board after negotiations.
Three city leaders, including Mayor Bruce Harrell, sent the school board letters in recent weeks advocating for Jones, the interim superintendent, to stay in the district’s highest-paid position. Jones, who has a one-year contract to serve in the interim role, took over for Denise Juneau in June after she resigned from her position early.
Letters from Harrell, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Rachel Smith, and Dwane Chappelle, director of the city’s department of education and early learning center, touted the stability Jones brought the district after a year of turmoil and uncertainties. They also praised Jones for putting equity at the forefront of his decisions.
“Pandemic-related teacher shortages and student concerns have undoubtedly had a disruptive impact on districts throughout the region,” wrote Harrell in the letter sent last week. “However, Dr. Jones has displayed the capability to address crises large and small while keeping the district advancing toward the north star of equity.”
Some members of the community are also calling for Jones to be the next superintendent. The firm hired to do the search, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, held focus groups and interviews with 84 people, including educators, board members, administrators, community partners and students.
“One name was consistently brought forward as someone who should receive serious consideration for the position of your new superintendent, and that is your current interim superintendent,” an HYA consultant told the school board during Monday’s work session meeting.
The district held two special board meetings last month to take comments from the public on who the next leader of the district should be. During those meetings, a handful of people also voiced their support for Jones.
“It’s past time for another duly qualified, highly skilled Black man to lead,” Chappelle wrote. “Dr. Brent Jones has led the district admirably through extraordinary times. As interim superintendent, he has been a strong ally for equity to further education priorities during his brief tenure to date.”
He noted it’s been more than two decades since Seattle’s permanent superintendent has been a Black man, and the underrepresentation of Black men in leadership roles has furthered inequities for Black boys.
Seattle Schools has tried to improve racial equity for years. Recently, it released a report that outlines a new approach to make the education system work for students of color, specifically Black male students. The report is part of an initiative that launched in 2019, a few years after the disparity among test scores between Black and white students in Seattle Schools gained national attention.
The Chamber of Commerce has been impressed by Jones’ leadership through the pandemic, and having a national search would be unnecessary, Smith wrote. The next superintendent will need to tackle challenges with learning loss and inequities, she wrote, and Jones has proven he can handle it.
“We see his commitment and focus to achieve equitable outcomes,” Smith added. “We appreciate his outreach and engagement with the broader community. He has assembled a strong and highly accomplished leadership team.”
The results of a Seattle Schools superintendent search survey show the public wants someone who can provide transparent communication, is sensitive to the needs of the diverse student population, can foster a positive and trusting professional climate and sets high expectations for all students. More than 2,600 people filled out the survey, the majority of respondents being parents and teachers.
If Jones isn’t the board’s pick, finalists are expected to be announced by mid-April.
Jones’ family has lived in Seattle for generations. He is a Franklin High School graduate, another reason people cite when they say he’s the right person for what is considered one of the toughest public-service jobs in Seattle. His supporters say he knows and understands the community.
Jones graduated from the University of Washington, and earned a master’s and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Texas at Austin.
He started his career in 1993 teaching adult education in Austin. Later he worked in various management and human resource positions at community colleges in Texas and Washington. He served as chief of human resources at Seattle Colleges and talent officer for the Kent School District.
Before leaving Seattle Schools in 2019 to work for King County Metro, Jones had various leadership positions in the district starting in 2008. Most recently he was the district’s chief officer of equity, partnerships and engagement and also served as the human resources chief.