The withdrawal of Seattle superintendent finalist Steven Enoch leaves the School Board with two candidates who showed starkly different leadership styles during their visits here last week.
The withdrawal of Seattle superintendent finalist Steven Enoch late Saturday leaves the School Board with two candidates who showed starkly different leadership styles during their visits here last week.
Board members scheduled a Sunday night meeting to discuss those two options: José Banda and Sandra Husk. The board hopes to announce a decision Wednesday.
In an email to School Board members, Enoch, the superintendent of San Ramon Valley Unified School District near San Francisco, cited a sense that he is not right for the Seattle job.
“I have concluded that what Seattle needs is a younger person, potentially able to provide longer stability and direction for the district,” wrote Enoch, who will turn 63 next month and had decided to retire before weighing the Seattle job. “I believe you have two very viable candidates that will better meet the long-term needs of the district.”
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School Board President Michael DeBell declined to say whether the board will consider reopening the search process. He said he was disappointed with Enoch’s decision but respected it.
The new hire would replace Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield, who will leave at the end of June to lead the Highline School District.
In an interview Sunday, Enoch said his decision was based not on feedback he received from the School Board but rather on “personal reflection as my wife and I discussed the job.”
Fellow finalist Husk, who is considering another job, confirmed she is still a candidate.
Husk, a friend of Enoch’s, said she was surprised by his withdrawal.
Enoch’s decision disappointed activist parents and teachers, many of whom favored him because of his experience, enthusiasm and straightforward manner.
Some of those activists plan to shift their support to Banda, who is widely considered an underdog to Husk because he comes from the small, elementary school-only Anaheim (Calif.) City School District.
“He’s the least likely to provide any kind of churn, and he would be the most collaborative,” said Melissa Westbrook, a local blogger, who has compared Husk to fired former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson.
Husk, the superintendent of the Salem-Keizer School District, the second-largest in Oregon, has the support of several local groups aiming to shake up public education.
Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, said she thinks Husk’s experience in major districts makes her more likely to be able to handle the pressure of the job.
A Banda-Husk choice would be a clear one for the School Board. In visits to Seattle for final interviews last week, they displayed sharply different leadership philosophies and personal styles.
Banda, who is best known in the heavily Latino Anaheim district for engaging parents who historically had not been involved in schools, made it clear he would make parent participation a top priority in Seattle.
In a brief news conference as part of the visit, Banda was, at times, tentative.
He said he would avoid immediate, major changes in personnel or policy at Seattle Public Schools. He strongly praised the district’s strategic plan for improving academic achievement, which even School Board members have said needs to be changed.
“I’m not the kind to come in with a set plan,” Banda said, adding that “there’s nothing more important than getting feedback from the community.”
By contrast, Husk said in her news conference that, if chosen, her first step would be to create an “entry plan,” although she said she might tweak it based on community input.
Husk displayed a more forceful style during the meeting with reporters.
She said that one of her biggest moves in Salem was to push to transfer some powers from the School Board to her administration, an effort the board supported.
“They like lots of updates,” Husk said, “but we’ve been pretty clear about who we’re holding responsible for which area.”
It’s an interesting situation for a School Board that has spent part of its first five months together divided over the question of how much power it should have.
That debate reached its height in late January, when the board considered a proposal to reduce any tendency to micromanage by describing specific limits of what it should and should not do. The proposal was tabled in a 4-3 vote and eventually softened.
If a message can be taken from that vote — that a majority prefers a School Board with more power — then Banda might be seen as a favorite for the job.
But he would have to overcome concerns that the Seattle position represents too big a step up for him. His current district, in Anaheim, has fewer than 20,000 students and draws little media attention.
During his news conference, Banda said leadership skills are transferable.
“It’s really the same, whether you go from 20 to 40 to 60 thousand students,” he said.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.