Three finalists for Seattle Public Schools superintendent were named Thursday: Jose L. Banda of Anaheim City School District in Southern California; Steven W. Enoch of San Ramon Valley Unified School District in Northern California; and Sandra L. Husk of Salem-Keizer School District in Oregon.
In the months since Seattle Public Schools launched a search for a new leader, the debate among parents has centered on whether the district’s next superintendent should be a local administrator with a grasp of regional issues or a high-profile visionary with a track record in urban education.
The Seattle School Board seemed to reject both approaches Thursday, announcing three low-key superintendents at medium-sized West Coast districts as finalists for the post.
Jose L. Banda, 55, of Anaheim City School District in Southern California; Steven W. Enoch, 62, of San Ramon Valley Unified School District in Northern California; and Sandra L. Husk, 55, of Salem-Keizer School District in Oregon will come to Seattle one at a time next week for interviews.
By early next month, the board is expected to name one of them as superintendent. With about 48,000 students, Seattle would be the largest district that any of them has led. But each of the candidates would bring decades of school-administrator experience.
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“We have three sitting superintendents who have all shown some success in improving academic outcomes in their district,” said School Board President Michael DeBell, adding that he is happy with the finalists.
About 40 people applied for the job, which pays $225,000 a year, DeBell said. Although it was a national search, the board focused on the West Coast because of similarities to Washington state, he said.
Parents, teachers and education activists responded to the announcement of the finalists with cautious optimism. Several noted there has not been a lot of previous media attention on the finalists.
Charlie Mas, a local blogger often critical of Seattle Public Schools, said that’s a good thing.
“These people have quietly gone about their business without drama. Thank goodness. That’s just what we need — less drama,” he said. “They all appear to welcome and respect public input. That’s all they have to do if they want to surf these waves without wiping out.”
Mas noted that all the finalists have stayed in at least one job for a relatively long time. That’s an important quality for Seattle, which has had four leaders since 2003 — including interim schools chief Susan Enfield, who will leave in June after a little more than a year on the job.
Jose L. Banda
Of the finalists, Banda comes from a district most unlike Seattle.
The Anaheim City School District is an elementary-school-only district of about 20,000 students. It’s an inner-city district, with students whose parents typically work at Disneyland or the hotels that surround the amusement park.
Eighty-six percent of the students are Latino, and about 60 percent are classified as English Language Learners. “It’s a pretty big challenge here,” said Peter Daniels, a district spokesman.
Student achievement has improved there during Banda’s four-year tenure: The district’s Academic Performance Index, a statewide measure of student achievement, has risen significantly under Banda, and several schools have surpassed the state’s benchmark score.
“We could all make excuses for why our students don’t achieve: They come from poverty; there’s not a sufficient grasp of the English language,” Banda said in an interview. But instead, he said, he instilled in staff members the idea that every student has potential.
Banda is a fluent Spanish speaker, the son of migrant workers. He touts his community involvement and serves on several local boards.
He is proud of shepherding through a $169 million construction measure in 2010 that addressed overcrowding, a problem that has plagued the district for years.
Banda has spent 30 years in the field of education, including as a high-school principal. Before Anaheim, he was superintendent of the Planada School District and deputy superintendent at Oceanside Unified School District, both in California.
Steven W. Enoch
Enoch is the only finalist with Washington state ties: He served as superintendent of the San Juan Island School District for seven years (1995-2002) and the Mead School District, near Spokane, for four.
He has also been in his current job, in San Ramon Valley, for four years.
The district, just east of San Francisco, has about 30,000 students in 35 schools across several well-to-do suburban communities — it’s near the corporate headquarters of Chevron and the West Coast office of AT&T.
According to the district, more than 96 percent of the graduating seniors in the class of 2011 went to college.
Enoch, who started his career as a teacher, announced last month that he was retiring, although he wrote in his goodbye letter that he wanted to remain involved in education.
In an interview, Enoch said he wasn’t initially sure he wanted to be a candidate for the Seattle job. He said he’s going into the interviews next week hoping to see whether the district is a good fit for his skills. “If it isn’t a good match — we’ll see,” he said.
Enoch is 62, but he said he didn’t necessarily plan to quit working when he reaches 65.
“I have more energy than most people you meet, and I’m very fit and healthy, and I could work for quite some time,” he said.
Greg Marvel, president of San Ramon Valley’s school board, described Enoch as a man who “doesn’t care about the political consequences of taking a position that’s right for kids.”
Marvel also described Enoch as an effective public speaker: “He can hold a group in the palm of his hand.”
Sandra L. Husk
Husk has more geographically diverse experience than the other finalists, having served in superintendent jobs in the Denver area and Montgomery County, Tenn., before going to Oregon six years ago.
She also comes from the largest district of the three: Salem-Keizer is Oregon’s second-largest school district with about 40,000 students in 43 elementary, 11 middle, eight high schools and four charter schools.
In an interview, Husk said she is honored to be a finalist for the Seattle job, which she feels offers great challenge and opportunity.
“There are always great challenges and joys in being superintendent of a school system,” said Husk, adding the job requires “a good facilitator, problem solver and communicator. I believe I have that skill set.”
Husk, a former elementary-school counselor, acknowledged one blemish on her record: a drunken-driving arrest in 2000 that resulted in a deal in which she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, driving while ability impaired.
Seattle officials said they were aware of the incident.
Rick Kimball, board chairman of the Salem-Keizer Public Schools, called Husk “an excellent leader who hires good people and has good communication skills.”
Kimball said that under Husk, the district’s dropout rate fell and its graduation rate rose.
“I would hate to lose her,” he said. “But I’ve been in the working world for more than 35 years and I know that good people are going to be applying for jobs.”
Whoever is chosen as superintendent will step into a city with a divided School Board, a parent community that some feel is too vocal, and a teachers union that is split about how much change it should accept.
He or she will also have to deal with significant budget cuts, serious school overcrowding and a stubborn achievement gap between comparatively wealthy students and poor ones.
The superintendent search began in December after Enfield decided not to seek the job on a permanent basis. While she had not yet been offered the position permanently, she had built significant community support since starting the job in March 2011.
The district’s last permanent superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, was fired that month after a state audit found that the district’s small-business contracting program awarded $1.8 million in contracts with questionable or no public benefit.
Goodloe-Johnson was not directly implicated in the audit, but a special investigator hired by the district found that she knew enough about the problems that she should have acted.
The former manager of the program, Silas Potter Jr., has pleaded not guilty to theft charges associated with the scandal.
Enfield, who served as Goodloe-Johnson’s chief academic officer before succeeding her, announced in February that she had accepted the superintendent job one school district south, in Highline.
Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf and David Turim contributed to this report.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.