City and district leaders say Seattle Public Schools interim Superintendent Brent Jones is the right fit for the permanent job, even though community members have criticized the board for not making the search process more inclusive.

Jones moved one step closer to being the district’s next leader Friday morning after the board voted 6-1 to negotiate his contract during a special meeting. After an agreement is negotiated, the board will vote on whether to accept the contract. If Jones were to be hired, it would make him the district’s first Black male leader in more than two decades.

After Friday’s vote, the Seattle Council PTSA Board also voiced support for Jones.

“I haven’t interviewed or worked with Jones,” said Caedmon Magboo Cahil, a parent with two kids at Fairmount Park Elementary. “But what I will say – it makes sense to keep someone who other district leaders feel is a strong candidate and capable and willing to continue the work.”

Communication from the district has been better under Jones’ leadership, Magboo Cahil said, and she’s optimistic about Jones taking on the job permanently. “I think the question that I have at this juncture is, what would be the best result for students and families? Is it having that engagement process or is it securing a leader who we know is strong and capable?”

Board member Lisa Rivera Smith acknowledged there wasn’t much time for community input or transparency, but said Jones is driven and dedicated, and that’s what the district needs in a superintendent. Most board members said he’s proven he can not only handle the job but do it well.

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Chetan Soni, a sophomore at Lincoln High School, said that although Jones is doing good work, it was clear student input wasn’t prioritized during the search process. He said some students and staff lost confidence in the district because of the way the return from winter break was handled. COVID-19 cases skyrocketed and some schools had to shut down or return to remote learning

Soni is concerned there will be another spike in cases after spring break, which starts April 11, especially because the mask mandate is being eliminated. 

Board member Vivian Song-Maritz, who voted for Jones, acknowledged the lack of community engagement. “We directors are often asking our district staff what kind of community engagement was done for the board action requested,” she said. “I don’t believe we directors are holding ourselves to the same standard that we hold our district staff. For all of this, I want to say I am deeply sorry.”

Song-Maritz said she spent 30 hours interviewing people about the superintendent search and said people told her they like working with Jones, and that he’s willing to listen and collaborate. 

Jones embodies “the consistency and alignment of what our vision is for our district and students, which is a relentless focus on student’s academic outcomes,” she said. “This consistency is a direct consequence of the leadership Dr. Jones has already brought.”

The lone “no” vote came from board member Leslie Harris, who said she has respect for Jones but believes there wasn’t enough community engagement. That was also why she didn’t vote for Jones when he was appointed interim superintendent in June.

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“He has many other extreme executive (job) opportunities facing him because of the good work that has happened, but with deep sadness, I cannot vote yes,” Harris said.

The next superintendent should know the difference between managing a district and managing educators, said Priyanka Jayanthi, a kindergarten teacher at Queen Anne Elementary. She said she often feels disconnected from the central office. 

“You can’t put students first when you’re putting teachers last,” Jayanthi said. “We’re the ones with the kids every day, we also have to be taken care of. A lot of times we get directions from the district and it feels like it’s coming from people who don’t know what it’s like to be in a classroom.”

Some of the top issues facing the next superintendent are mental health and social-emotional learning, said Joaquin Rodriguez, a multi-language coach at Franklin High School. But the most important thing would be for the superintendent to listen to students’ wants and needs.

Jones took over for former Superintendent Denise Juneau after she left two months shy of the end of her term. Juneau made $295,000 a year and Jones’ yearly salary is $315,000.

He’s gained support among city leaders and community members, including Mayor Bruce Harrell, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Rachel Smith, and Dwane Chappelle, director of the city’s department of education and early learning center.

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The trio of community leaders praised Jones for leading the district through a time of uncertainty and putting equity at the forefront of decision making. Community members also expressed support for Jones during board meetings and interviews held by Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the firm hired to conduct the search for a new superintendent. 

Jones graduated from Franklin High School, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Washington. 

He received his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Texas at Austin. He started his career teaching adult education in 1993 and later worked in various management and human resource positions at community colleges in Texas and Washington. He then 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 held various leadership positions in the district starting in 2008. He served as the human resources chief for the district and most recently was the district’s chief officer of equity, partnerships and engagement.

The story has been updated to correct a misspelled name.