Seattle should give new Superintendent Denise Juneau a chance to lead and improve educational opportunities.
Seattle Public Schools’ new superintendent, Denise Juneau, is beginning her job with a listening tour. She wants to get to know the community before jumping in to act on the challenges the district faces.
But her list of tasks is long and complicated. Juneau should keep the tour short and get right to work improving educational outcomes for students
Juneau has demonstrated success elevating graduation rates and closing achievement gaps during her years as Montana state schools chief. In Montana, she started the Graduation Matters initiative, which is credited with increasing graduation rates for all students from 81 percent in 2011 to 85.6 percent in 2016, and for Native American students from 61.5 percent to 65.6 percent.
The Seattle School Board must give Juneau the opportunity to use her skills and experience to make a difference in Seattle — before starting down its usual path of second-guessing and micromanaging.
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Give Juneau the freedom to lead.
Education-policy experts agree on a few actions likely to improve achievement for all students: High-quality early learning for all children; more attention on attendance; better transitions between elementary and middle and high school; academic support for struggling students; school counseling for academic and emotional support; opportunities for all students to take challenging high school classes; high graduation standards and the support needed to help more students reach them.
Juneau is an education-policy expert, with a particular interest in closing achievement gaps between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. She likely has a long list of reforms she would like to focus on, even after just a few weeks on the job. The school board must not stand in her way. Her job isn’t to make individuals or groups happy; she was hired to improve Seattle schools for all.
Some change may be painful for individuals, but the new superintendent should be judged on results: Do graduation rates go up? Do achievement gaps get smaller? Are discipline rates going down?
At a meeting with the editorial board, Juneau talked about her twin beliefs in data-informed decisions and creative approaches to problems. Although she talked about needing time to get her bearings, she also appeared ready to dive into some of those big problems. This is an excellent sign.
Another reason Juneau can’t afford a long listening tour: She has a role to play this summer in teacher-contract negotiations. The state Legislature has provided Seattle with plenty of money to give teachers a decent raise this year. But the district also needs cash to improve programs and hire more educators, nurses, counselors, librarians and technology experts, among other things.
Seattle school leaders must not make the same mistake they made in the last contract negotiations, when teachers won more of a raise than the district could afford in a bid to end a painful teachers strike. Stabilizing the district budget, while making an effort to work with the state on adjusting to the new education-funding system, must also be on Juneau’s to-do list.
Seattle Public Schools has a promising new superintendent. Give her a chance to increase educational opportunities for all. Let her lead.