Seattle’s new superintendent will make just shy of $300,000 a year — with the potential for an annual $15,000 performance bonus — as part of a contract approved unanimously by the Seattle School Board on Wednesday night.

Former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau was selected from a pool of more than 60 applicants and three finalists to be the district’s next leader on April 4, pending the completion of that employment agreement.

She will officially take over for Larry Nyland on July 1.

In a session with reporters on Thursday morning, Juneau said she has already started meeting with key district staffers, and was planning to sit down for one-on-one discussions with each member of the board. The importance of building those connections is something she said she learned during her near decade holding statewide elected office.

“Building relationships is really important, and making sure that we have goals that are laid out and that we are working together to meet those goals,” said Juneau, who will become the first Native American to serve as superintendent.

Though her official start date is still more than two months away, Juneau also plans to make several visits ahead of her first official day on the job. Board members expressed their faith that the transition will be a smooth one, and praised Nyland for his work over the past four years. 

“I have such confidence in this transition because of the great team that we have and all the work we have done to create strong processes in place that really focus on education for every child, every day, with a lens around closing the achievement gap and the opportunity gap,” said school board director Jill Geary. “It is so exciting to know we’re bringing in a leader who shares those values and wants to move forward in that work.”

Though Juneau said her priorities will depend greatly on the input of the board — “because they are the ones that really need to guide the policy of this district,” — she noted that equity was the one consistent point of emphasis she heard from every constituency.  

“It’s what made me excited about being here in Seattle,” she said.

She also acknowledged the challenges that come with that consensus.

“Maybe we need to define what that means in a broader sense, because I have a feeling that coming from each of those different groups it may look different, or be a different thing,” she said.

Juneau takes over the district at a time when the city itself is taking on an increasingly large role in education, with a looming levy to expand its preschool program, wraparound services for local students, and its Seattle Promise effort to provide two years of free tuition at Seattle Colleges. She said she’s looking forward to meeting with Mayor Jenny Durkan to further discuss how the city and district can partner moving forward.

“I think altogether there should be a seamless system from pre-K to college, that all the issues from education to housing to transportation should all work together … We can no longer afford to just stay in our silos, particularly when the money may not be there, when resources are slim we need to figure out ways forward that helps particularly are most vulnerable and our youngest citizens in this city.”

In addition to her base salary and potential performance bonus  — dependent in the first year on the board’s adoption of a district strategic plan and superintendent performance evaluation structure — Juneau’s contract also includes a yearly contribution to a tax-sheltered annuity of four percent of her salary (nearly $12,000 in the first year), and $8,400 annually for local travel expenses on District business — determined to be less costly than providing an automobile. One-time moving costs to Seattle will also be covered.

If Juneau remains in the role for five years, she’ll also receive a $30,000 retention bonus. Hitting that mark would make her the longest-tenured district head since William Kendrick, who held the role from 1986 to 1995.

“When we look at leadership, longevity matters, and people who are sticking around and getting to know a place and really learning and digging in and providing really good leadership around those issues, it’s a natural thing,” she said. “People want to have that.”

She also said there will be ample opportunity in the coming months for the public to express their own priorities and concerns.  

“I’ve learned that people want access to people in power,” she said. “They want to have their voices heard and as an elected official, what I learned is that you need to be out there, and you need to be with the people, and you need to be having community meetings and talking to the different organizations so that you get a big picture of what needs to happen.”

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School Board President Leslie Harris (left) looks on as Juneau signs her employment agreement with the district. Photo by Joe Veyera