If confirmed by the Seattle City Council, Dwane Chappelle will oversee the city’s efforts in preschool, K-12 and higher education.
Rainier Beach High School Principal Dwane Chappelle, who has presided over an impressive increase in graduation rates at the South Seattle school after implementing the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum there, is Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee for director of Seattle’s new Department of Education and Early Learning.
“Dwane has developed a remarkable success story at Rainier Beach high school and he’s quick to add he did it with the support and commitment of students, parents, teachers and the community” Murray said Thursday at a news conference. “That’s the kind of leader we need. That’s the kind of skill set we need.”
Murray opened the new department in January, bringing together services previously run by different branches of city government while also adding to those services.
The department is responsible for the city’s school-based support programs, work with colleges and universities, and the newly launched subsidized-preschool pilot, which is being funded with a voter-approved property-tax levy of $14.5 million per year.
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Murray has said he wants the city to partner more with Seattle Public Schools. Jonathan Knapp, president of the city’s teachers union, was on the nominating committee for the director job and praised the mayor’s pick Thursday.
Chappelle has been principal at Rainier Beach since 2011. Once a school with declining enrollment and low test scores, Beach now has a graduation rate that is better than the district average, rising to 78.9 percent last year from 53.7 percent in 2011.
Chappelle lacks experience in early learning, a focus of the department, Murray admitted. But the city in April hired an early-learning director, Monica Liang-Aguirre, who will serve under Chappelle if the City Council confirms him, the mayor said.
“I know this is a bittersweet moment for Rainier Beach High School and the community, but in his new role Dwane will remain part of that community,” Murray said.
“The progress for Rainier Beach is a model of success we want to bring to other schools and other levels of education, from early learning all the way through college.”
The city already had an Office of Education inside its Department of Neighborhoods. But when Murray in 2014 announced his plan to create a larger, stand-alone department, he said he hoped doing so would help close the gap between white children and their black and Latino peers. He noted at the time that only 56 percent of Seattle’s black students were reading at grade level, while 90 percent of whites were.
“While 17 out of every 20 white students graduate from high school, only 13 of 20 African-American students complete high school in four years,” Murray said Thursday.
Before taking over at Rainier Beach, Chappelle was as an assistant principal in the Arlington and Plano school districts, both in Texas. He previously worked as a juvenile-detention officer and holds degrees from Texas A&M University and Grambling State University.
“Our goal is to use advanced learning as an equity driver to make sure our students, especially our young black men, who look like me, have the opportunity to … prepare themselves for college and career,” Chappelle said.
If confirmed, Chappelle will start his new job Jan. 1. His salary will be $158,668 — what the department’s interim director, Holly Miller, is paid now.