UPDATE: December 8, 1:52 p.m.: Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau announced her resignation in a Tuesday statement. She said she will stay in the role through her current contract, which ends in June 2021.
“For progress to continue in Seattle, the full-throated support of a united school board is essential,” she said in the statement. “This school board must choose a superintendent with whom they can co-lead and move forward together.”
Stay tuned for more information soon.
If a prediction from the Seattle School Board president holds true, Denise Juneau’s short stint leading Seattle Public Schools could come to an end soon.
On Monday, board president Chandra Hampson says she’s “pretty certain” Juneau, the city’s school superintendent, doesn’t have the votes for a renewal of her contract, which ends June 2021.
Hampson said she does not support renewing Juneau’s contract, but on Monday night, six other board members would not say where they stand or did not respond to requests for comment.
Hampson, who was recently appointed president of the seven-member board, informed Juneau of the outlook Monday. News of renewal or nonrenewal would be made official next Wednesday, the next time the School Board meets for its regularly scheduled meeting. It’s unclear exactly how the status of her contract will be determined; Hampson said it could be through a board vote, or perhaps through Juneau saying she does not intend to return for another school year.
If she or the board decides not to renew the contract, she would serve through the end of the school year.
Neither Juneau nor the district responded immediately to a request for comment Monday evening.
The relationship between Juneau and some School Board members has been strained over the past year, with the pandemic adding to heightened concern about the direction of the district.
Hampson said Juneau has some traits of someone who is steady through a crisis, but that she lacks the skills to effectively manage the district’s operational challenges and respond to feedback from community members, particularly around allegations of racism, abuse and misconduct in schools, some of which were made public in a series of stories published by KUOW this year. Her efforts to address those issues haven’t been systemic enough, she said. She said the district has also not been transparent about elements of its pandemic response, which made it hard for School Board members to make critical decisions around school reopening.
“I have a great amount of respect for her … but I don’t believe we’re in the place where we’ll continue for the long haul,” said Hampson. “It’s going to be hard for some people to hear that.”
Lisa Rivera-Smith, a board member at large, wouldn’t say whether she would support a contract renewal.
“Many of SPS’s current struggles predate Denise’s tenure, so laying all blame at her feet feels untenable,” she wrote in a text message. “But what Seattle needs in any superintendent is a guiding light so brilliant and strong it can cut through the thickest of fogs and unite divergent stakeholders under our shared vision and values. Whether or not Superintendent Juneau has done that will shape my vote.”
Juneau took over leadership of the district in 2018 after serving as schools chief for the state of Montana.
A circle of local activists and leaders of the NAACP have been calling on the School Board to terminate the contract for months, claiming she had exacerbated racism in the district, sidelined efforts to implement ethnic studies districtwide and alienated people of color in high management positions.
“We get lip service,” said Carolyn Riley-Payne, president of the Seattle/King County NAACP, said in October. “We don’t see the improvement we need to see.”
But she has garnered support from some city and community leaders, nonprofit organizations and philanthropists, some of whom penned a letter to the School Board urging them to renew her contract. They argue that Juneau hasn’t been given sufficient time to implement the needed changes, and that a new leader amid the pandemic would add more instability.
In an interview last week with the Times, Juneau said she thought there needed to be some restorative healing between her and the School Board. If her contract were renewed, she said at the time, she said she’d be willing to return.
She made headlines in 2018 because, as a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, she is the first Native American to lead the state’s largest school district. Since then, she launched a five-year strategic plan dedicated to improving outcomes for African American boys and teens.
Last week, she announced she wanted pre-K through second graders to return to the district in person this spring. The School Board is slated to make a decision in the next week.
She is the third superintendent to lead the district in the past eight years, and the seventh superintendent since 2000.