The Seattle School Board wants to hire a new superintendent when Superintendent Larry Nyland's contract ends in June 2018.
The Seattle School Board wants to hire a new superintendent when Superintendent Larry Nyland’s contract ends in June 2018.
On Friday, the district published a document on its website saying it is seeking a search firm to help identify candidates. There was no formal announcement of the move.
The School Board hopes to have a new superintendent by May 2018, the document says.
The new superintendent will be the district’s third leader in six years. Nyland was named interim superintendent in July 2014 after Jose Banda left to lead the Sacramento City Unified School District. The School Board voted later that year to give Nyland the job permanently through June 2017, and later decided to extend his contract by a year.
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Board President Sue Peters said it’s time for the public to weigh in on a new district leader, noting that Nyland got the job without a national search or much input from parents or other city residents. When board members extended his contract to 2018, she said, it was with the understanding that they would then search for his replacement.
There’s never a right time to replace a superintendent, Peters said, but there is a solid School Board in place and the district is on the right track.
“It’s time to hear from the community,” she said.
But at least one School Board member, as well as the president of Seattle’s teachers union, wanted Nyland to stay longer.
Board member Stephan Blanford said Monday he tried to convince his colleagues to extend Nyland’s contract one more year, so Nyland could finish negotiating the district’s next contract with its teachers.
In particular, Blanford said he worried that a new schools chief — especially one new to Seattle — would suffer in contract negotiations if he or she doesn’t know the district’s recent history and hasn’t had time to establish his or her own vision.
“It’s an uncomfortable position in the best circumstance,” Blanford said.
He also criticized his colleagues for not seeking public input before opening the search for Nyland’s replacement.
“I think it’s unfortunate, but in some ways it’s not unexpected,” he said. “There are colleagues (on the board) that I believe have a predetermined outcome for what they’re looking for.”
He declined to name any board members or what they might be seeking.
Phyllis Campano, president of Seattle’s teachers union, said she also thought it would be a good idea for Nyland to stay until a new contract is in place.
“His (Nyland’s) term ends right in the middle of bargaining,” she said. “And that’s just not good for the kids.”
“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s been perfect,” she added. “But there are issues in the district, and we’re not going to solve them if we change superintendents every three years.”
Campano credited Nyland for establishing a collaborative relationship with the Seattle Education Association and for pointing the district in the right direction when it comes to eliminating gaps in achievement among different ethnic groups — often called “opportunity gaps.”
The document seeking a search firm was published about a month before elections for three of the seats on the seven-member board. At least two of the three winners will be new to the board — the only incumbent in the race is Betty Patu. Peters and Blanford aren’t seeking re-election.
Nyland wasn’t available for an interview Monday, but in a prepared statement said the district has made historic gains during his tenure, including increasing graduation rates for students of color and expanding preschool access. Most important, he said, the district has made eliminating opportunity gaps a priority.
“No matter who the Superintendent is my greatest hope is that the School Board and staff continue this commitment to social justice,” he said.
In Nyland’s annual evaluation last December, School Board members praised him for making race and equity a priority but criticized him for missing targets related to opportunity gaps. Nyland needed to do more to address race and equity, board members said. At that time, board member Leslie Harris called Nyland a “class act.”
Robert Cruickshank, a Seattle parent and political activist, echoed Peters in saying it was the right time for a search.
“Big things are always happening,” he said. “To me, that’s an argument for doing the search now … We haven’t had a public search process in five years, which is a long time. A lot has changed in Seattle (and the school district) in those years.”
Cruickshank, whose son will soon enter kindergarten, also criticized Nyland for the teacher strike in 2015 – the first strike the district had in 30 years.
“It was completely unnecessary,” Cruickshank said. “I think a lot of parents made that really clear at the time … and thought maybe it’s time for new leadership.”
Liza Rankin, a member of the Seattle Council PTSA board, said she’s on the fence about whether a new leader is a good idea for the district, although she agrees the timing and turnover aren’t ideal. She said she was speaking for herself, not the board as a whole.
Nyland, she said, is quiet, thoughtful and knowledgeable about the issues Seattle schools are facing – but a fresh perspective might be a good thing.
“From what I can see, there’s a lot of best intent from Nyland,” she said. “But he’s not going to tip over any apple carts. … We need someone to rattle the cages.”
Seattle Times staff members Neal Morton and Dahlia Bazzaz contributed to this report.