Montana’s former Superintendent of Public Instruction is set to take the helm of Seattle Public Schools later this year.

On Wednesday night, the school board voted unanimously to enter contract negotiations with Denise Juneau to succeed Larry Nyland as superintendent.

Juneau — a Mandan Hidatsa Arikara tribal citizen — will become the first American Indian to lead the district.

“I am ready to work with the school board to help them achieve their goals of educational equity in outcomes, closing the opportunity gaps, robust engagement with community and parents, and providing a quality education for all students,” she said in statement.

More than 60 candidates applied for the position, a pool that was narrowed to three finalists. That trio — which also included superintendents from districts in Michigan and Colorado — was in Seattle at the end of March to tour schools, participate in a public forum, and interview with the board.

During a session with the media during that visit, Juneau said she had conversations elsewhere, but "it never really felt right.” Seattle had what she called the right priorities, including equity for all and closing the opportunity gap.

"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," she said.

Juneau comes to the district having managed a $1 billion budget over 450 schools and more than 150,000 students during her tenure in Montana, before facing now-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in a race for the state's lone House seat in 2016. More recently, she’s worked as an educational consultant, and said she was interested in getting back into a leadership role.

“I do believe school system education work really allows me to see the difference that my decisions make,” she said. “You can see the outcomes — the very real outcomes — on students’ lives; on community economic development.”

She’ll take over a district with just over 53,000 students, and a budget just shy of $900 million.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board had high praise for their pick.

"The work that we do is based on trust," said Board Vice President Rick Burke. "And what I heard from so many people was that Ms. Juneau is already coming in with a high level of trust."

Director Zachary Dewolf noted what Juneau’s background would mean to students, particularly those from underrepresented communities.

“Many of our young kids — whether they are young girls, whether they are queer folks, or native kids — will finally feel visible, and seen, and represented,” Dewolf said.

Board President Leslie Harris hinted at the district’s potential, and the hope that Juneau can help unlock it.

"We're looking for a leader for the next 10 years to leverage off a foundation that has been built by extraordinarily talented, valuable staff and community, community partners, our PTSA, and our Seattle way," she said. "We may talk things into the ground in this city, but we are capable of extraordinary things and it is our job to deliver and it is the job of the next superintendent to help us get there."

That’s something the next superintendent hinted at in her statement after Wednesday’s vote.

“I look forward to building on the district’s successes, working with all partners to confront challenges and continue the positive progress already underway,” Juneau said.

The board is expected to vote on a final contract with Juneau at its April 25 meeting, with an anticipated start date of July 1.

This story has been updated.

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