As part of the visits of the three candidates to be the next superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, each contender sat down with the media to discuss their experience, their interest in the position, and their vision for the role. 

With the vote Wednesday night by the school board to enter contract negotiations with former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, we're posting excerpts from that session. 

 

On what drew her to the opening in Seattle:

"I talked with several places and it never really felt right, but I think coming here when I looked at what the district was involved in they seem to have the right priorities, and its exciting for me to look at a community and a school that has the priorities of equity for all, working with all students, closing opportunity gaps, the diversity ... I really think Seattle is poised to create a system where students are ready to enter the global economy, because they are the global economy, they are the ones who are going to lead that conversation, they’re going to lead those efforts because they are from all over the place, and so that’s really exciting. I just think when I looked at Seattle they had the right priorities at least on paper that they were moving down the road on, that’s exciting." 

On her experience:

"We had about 145,000 students across the state, we managed about a $1 billion budget over 400 schools across the state, and our agency basically provided the support, but when I look at what Seattle Public Schools looks like, and the organization chart, it looks very similar to the state education agency in Montana. I’ve been consulting for a while, doing some educational consulting around the country, but I’m ready to get back into a leadership role, and work with a team and I do believe school system education work really allows me to see the difference that my decisions make. You can see the outcomes, the very real outcomes on students’ lives, on community economic development, when you have a quality education system, and we were able to build that across the state of Montana."

On her leadership style:

"I’m a big believer in building a longer table and making sure people are included, and if people aren’t there, going out and visiting with them and seeing what their issues are. I just really believe that everybody needs to have a voice. Those are my values that I grew up with, is when people don’t have a voice someone needs to be there to provide that for them, and so I want to hear — I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. I want to hear people, I want to listen to them, and really learn about what it is — as a public school you need to be paying attention to your public, and if they are part of the public they need to be included in those conversations."

On culturally-relevant curriculum:

"I helped implement a law called Indian Education for All and it was for American Indians, and it really was, we pulled tribes together basically, and said, 'What are those common things that you have — you have different histories and cultures and governments — but what are those essential things that you want people to learn about you?' and then we based our curriculum development on it, we based our lesson plans, our professional development, and they seemed really broad, but to understand those things you had to know a lot of deep information. I think that is where you can talk about diversity in a big way, pull people together and create those essentials and then develop unique lessons or books or resources around that are specific to the context of each school."

On the Graduation Matters initiative in Montana:

"I had 58 community schools that were involved with Graduation Matters, and I fundraised from organizations, because there was no state money provided and was able to provide seed funding for a lot of the mostly convening type of work that happened, and so they brought everybody to the table and we were truthful with the data. We said here is where you are, and here are the numbers, if you have problem with freshmen dropping out of school, or the transition from eighth to ninth grade, or is it seniors dropping out of school, and then people got to sit around the table and really figure out, 'What’s my role in this?' It's bringing the public back into public education so that they can help you increase or to tackle some of those challenges, and it would be things as simple as peer mentoring programs, and at the state level if another school wanted to see a peer mentoring program we connected them. Graduation coaches in some of the schools, we all know that it takes one caring adult to connect with every kid to make sure that they make it through school, and so those graduation coaches were able to really connect with kids and make sure that they were hitting the mark as they made their way through school. Early warning systems, we worked with different school buildings to not only look at state data that was collected but really dig into their school-based data and create a system where no kids fell through the crack and adults would track that data. If a student was failing three or more classes they were able to go and connect with that kid, or they were missing too much school, so no student was lost in the system, and I think that really helped and we had more and more schools that really wanted to get involved, particularly with the early warning system."

On addressing larger inequities:

"Our area that we really focused on in our state, because that was our population, were American Indians on reservations, and what we found is we put some research around that issue first, and when we looked at it, it was a specific type of poverty we were dealing with. It was deep, generational, isolated, and concentrated, and when you had those four components of poverty, you could look across the country and it happened on Indian reservations and inner cities, but once you knew what you were dealing with, you could put some good practices around that. We helped schools and communities create trauma-informed schools. We put wrap-around mental health in schools where students were at the center, they got to define their team, and then figure out the resources they need for whatever particular problem they’re dealing with, and we had people in the schools who worked with the leadership of those schools so they could be better.

We worked with teachers and staff about raising expectations of students of color particularly. You either try to lift yourself out of that culture of low expectations a lot, and so, just looked at a bigger picture and knew that we had to develop a specific type of process, and it actually became a national model because we were able to build that system with community support. We had big community meetings, and so we made sure that people were pulled in together on all that stuff and I think that’s a similar practice that could be here, you need to involve your community, you need to involve those neighborhoods, you need to involve families of color and get their input on where they want to see their child go.

I’ve never met a parent that did not want something better for their child. We also had staff and teachers and school administrators go out and do home visits and not just ask talk about their student’s life in school, about, 'Oh, Johnny didn’t show up today, or he has an F in math.' That it was basically sitting down and saying, 'What are your hopes and dreams for your child?' and talk about real connecting with parents and staff from schools and it just made a huge difference. It always goes back to you need a caring adult to care about each and every child, and you need to make those relationships so that they feel supported in their learning."

On school safety and arming teachers:

"I worked with the state legislature very closely in the state of Montana, and this issue comes up quite frequently, and I’ve always gone and opposed that kind of policy, because I think there are too many problems with it and too many things can go wrong as a result of that. It’s not the right way to approach school safety. It’s not the right way to approach a safe school environment. Schools should be safe places to learn. Schools should be almost sacred places, where student enters and they know they’re going to be safe and they know that they’re going to learn something and that they’re going to make these connections and relationships that are going to help them with becoming whoever it is they want to become, and I don’t think guns in schools provides that."

On charter schools:

"I am a public school person. I think taxpayer dollars should go toward public education, and anything that siphons away from that I am opposed to." 

On what she learned in her bid for Congress:

"That sometimes’ failure is good. You know, I think people expect access to their elected officials, they expect access to their candidates, they want to know where you are and so what I learned is to be accessible and to be transparent about my opinions and where I want to go. I know in this position I have to work with a school board and follow them and help implement their vision and their policies around this school district, but I learned that you can inspire a lot of young people by doing the right things. I still get approached by young people about how meaningful my race was to them, and that they felt engaged for the first time, that they felt included, and I do think representation matters, so I think that’s really what I learned in a really real way when I was running for Congress, it’s not always just about policy and where you want to lead, but it is about how you approach relationships and what that means to people out there."

On other potential opportunities and her commitment to the role if selected:

"When I look at my future career trajectory, it really is about — I had fun being state superintendent. I thought it was the best job that I ever had, because I got to — I spent about a third of the time in the office, about a third of the time in meetings with organizations and educators and then about a third of the time traveling around and seeing good things that were happening, and I think this position offers that same sort of opportunity. Leadership needs to be around for a while and longevity helps create stability, and Seattle Public Schools I think really does need that longevity in their next leader, and so I’m committed to sticking around to see it through."