Since mid-2018, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau has made improvements, missteps and tough decisions in extraordinary circumstances.
Next month, Seattle School Board directors will consider whether to allow Juneau’s contract to extend past the end of this school year or start the search for a new superintendent. They should invite Juneau to stay.
Juneau’s three-year contract is set to expire next summer. If the school board takes no action before the end of December, Juneau’s contract will automatically roll over for a one-year renewal on Jan. 1, 2021. Board members expect to discuss the issue at their Dec. 16 meeting.
Regional and local chapters of the NAACP have called for Juneau’s replacement. They say that during her tenure, the district has failed to improve educational outcomes for Black students, has dropped the ball on districtwide ethnic studies classes, failed to engage Black families and failed students of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while few detractors question Juneau’s commitment to educational equity, some school board directors express doubt she has the skills to translate those values into results.
But since her arrival, Juneau has aggressively worked to make the district more equitable. She led the district in developing a five-year strategic plan that prioritizes the academic, cultural and social-emotional learning of Black male students as a first step toward educational equity. The Office of African American Male Achievement is one expression of that plan. On Wednesday, she told school board directors that the district had finalized and posted a job opening for a program manager to develop and support a districtwide ethnic studies curriculum.
At the same time, Juneau has rebuilt relationships with local philanthropies and the business community, earning the trust of community partners.
Juneau’s tenure has not been impeccable. The district’s transition to remote learning has been clumsy and is far from complete. But during a pandemic is no time to change superintendents unless that leader is negligent, malicious or thoroughly inept. Juneau is none of these. A new hire would face the same challenges, plus the added burden of getting to know a new district during social distancing and remote instruction. The stakes are too high, the future too uncertain to wait for yet another superintendent to complete a “listening tour.”
Understandably, some parents, staff and community stakeholders might doubt these and other incremental improvements are proof enough that the district is finally walking the walk on student equity. School board directors must have Juneau answer for the district’s continued shortcomings. But they also must be realistic.
Cultural and institutional change of this magnitude takes time to yield results.