To find someone to lead the state’s largest school district through an uncertain year ahead, Seattle Public Schools will call in help from one of its own.
On Wednesday, the Seattle School Board selected Brent Jones, a former district administrator and graduate of Franklin High School, to serve as superintendent for one year as the Board conducts a broader search for a permanent replacement.
“Let’s get to work,” he told Board members just after the 5-1 vote, pledging to keep the focus on equitable outcomes for students.
Jones, the only candidate nominated for the job by the School Board, will take over from Denise Juneau by the end of June and receive a base salary of $315,000. He will be one of just a few Black superintendents in the district’s 150-year history.
He will take over what is considered one of the hardest public service jobs in Seattle at its most difficult juncture yet, setting a vision during a time that has, for many, exacerbated feelings of distrust in the district’s leadership and the safety of schools.
“This is a heavy lift at a heavy time,” said Board president Chandra Hampson.
School Board leaders and education community leaders hope Jones’ hometown roots and familiarity with the district will create a smooth transition .
“There is no candidate more qualified to turn the many walls within Seattle Public Schools into bridges,” said Sebrena Burr, former Seattle Council PTSA president and education advocate.
Jones, whose family has been in Seattle for generations, has a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in education from the University of Washington.
He started his career in education in 1993, teaching adult education in Austin. He then transitioned to various management and human resource positions at community colleges in Texas and Washington, including a stint as chief talent officer for the Kent School District and chief of human resources at Seattle Colleges.
He has served in three leadership positions at the district since 2008, most recently serving as the district’s chief officer of equity, partnerships and engagement before leaving in 2019 to work at King County Metro. He has also served as the district’s human resources chief.
Jones has pledged to keep working on the district’s strategic plan to serve African American male students, a vision he was involved with creating.
“This past year has been difficult for students and families. Tough decisions and challenges continue to face the district. I look forward to working closely with the School Board and staff to implement a clear, student-focused vision for this next school year,” Jones said in a release sent by the school district. “We have an opportunity to reimagine education so that we return stronger and more student-centered than we were before the pandemic. Our students deserve a future of excellence.”
As part of his contract, Jones will serve no more than one year as superintendent and won’t be a final candidate for the position. Hampson, the Board member to nominate Jones, said this was to ensure a permanent replacement went through a thorough vetting by the public. In the weeks before the vote on his contract, however, a few Board members said they wanted to see more community feedback on Jones’ appointment prior to the decision.
Leslie Harris was the sole Board member to vote “no” on the contract, saying it was “not personal,” but an objection to “not having community engagement.” Chris Jackins, a longtime observer of the district, also commented on the short turnaround time.
Hampson said the Board needed to move “expediently” to find an interim, and that other names could have been proposed by Board members in the weeks before the vote. She said Jones’ name kept coming up in conversations she had with former district officials, Board members and community members.
The Board will start its formal search for a permanent replacement in the fall, with plans to wrap up in the spring of 2022.