When our children are struggling to get through a pandemic that has upended how they learn and socialize, the best thing we can do for kids is ensure that there’s stability in their educational experience. So it’s concerning that some in the community have called for the removal of Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau — a superintendent who has gone largely unrecognized for leading Seattle Public Schools in remarkably novel circumstances and for making meaningful and necessary strides to advance racial equity across the district.
Since the start of her tenure in July 2018, Superintendent Juneau has achieved significant progress in addressing the systemic racial inequity that has persisted for generations. A cornerstone of her leadership has been Seattle Excellence, the district’s five-year strategic plan to support and serve students furthest from educational justice, beginning with Black boys and teens.
Seattle Excellence demonstrates how the superintendent has listened to the community and incorporated feedback to serve our students and families. She brought together a diverse group of students, parents, families, district staff, board members, Seattle Education Association members and other community leaders, who all shared their unique perspectives and creative solutions. This is work that is ongoing and requires all of us to participate.
Among Juneau’s top priorities coming out of Seattle Excellence is developing a workforce that is more diverse and culturally responsive — and SPS is already surpassing its own goals. Over the last three years, the district has increased its hiring of staff of color, from teachers (up 10% from 2018-19) and school leaders (up 19% from 2018-19) all the way up to central office leaders (up 19% from 2019-20). The district is able to recruit more educators of color due in part to the Academy of Rising Educators program, which now has a cohort that’s twice as large as last year’s, with four times as many Black male candidates.
The most critical work that Superintendent Juneau is supporting stems from the establishment of the Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA) in August 2019. AAMA is a powerful engine driving change throughout the district to address inequities and support SPS’ Black boys and teens. By helping AAMA secure $1.8 million dollars from local philanthropies, Juneau made Seattle Public Schools the first district in Washington state, and one of the few across the nation, to create an office that intentionally cultivates the cultural and academic strengths of Black male students.
Through AAMA, the district is actively working to create policies, structures and systems designed for Black male students’ success while simultaneously addressing district areas of improvement in culture, conditions, competencies and community connection. AAMA managers conduct biweekly remote meetings and individual check-ins with their students, and with the launch of the AAMA Student Leadership Council in February 2020. For the first time at SPS, Black boys and teens have a seat at the table when it comes to district decision-making processes that will affect their lives. In August, Juneau, SPS’ Department of Racial Equity Advancement and AAMA hosted the Liberation Through Anti-Racist Education Institute — a four-day virtual event where Black boys and teens had the opportunity to directly share their ideas with more than 500 SPS staff, educators and community members. We are eager to see more events like this that create channels to amplify Black student voices.
It’s important to acknowledge that even with these programs and accomplishments in place, Seattle Public Schools won’t end systemic racial inequity overnight. We must all make a long-term commitment that requires shared and collaborative focus, constant attention and leadership. That said, the district is driving change in the right direction under the superintendent’s leadership, and we should not pull back on progress.
In the midst of a global pandemic, Superintendent Juneau has made remarkable strides in reconstructing the district under a new, more ambitious vision of equity and inclusion. The district’s long-term work in building an anti-racist educational system is progressing as it should, and that is why her accomplishments are often uncelebrated and unknown to the public. Seattle Public Schools has been marked by leadership turnover — Superintendent Juneau is our seventh superintendent since 2000. Removing her at this time reinforces that pattern, and disrupts the momentum she has made toward Seattle Excellence and the experiences of students who deserve steady district leadership during this year marked by instability. Superintendent Juneau has been doing good work. We believe she should remain superintendent so that she can continue to lead Seattle Public Schools to a safer, more equitable future.