I spent yesterday evening out with my three-year-old son — not at the Mariners opener, sadly, even though that was the correct place to be in Seattle last night, but at the Seattle Public Schools superintendent candidate forum, where my son watched Super Truck on a muted iPad and I watched three different people answer the same dozen questions for three hours.
We met the three finalists chosen by the school board — Jeanice Swift, Denise Juneau and Andre Spencer, in that order — and each candidate spoke with Keisha Scarlett of SPS for 45 minutes in a question-and-answer format. Most of the questions and answers revolved around equity in education, which was great. Racial inequity in particular is the issue above all others facing Seattle's schools and their new leader.
Here are my brief-as-I-can-be thoughts about the three people we’re choosing between to be Seattle’s next superintendent:
Jeanice Swift - No. She’s definitely not the one. She seemed very nice and well-meaning, but also like she’s barely keeping up with the equity conversations, not ready to lead radical change. Swift is the candidate most drenched in the system. She repeatedly talked about “falling in” with the good work already being done when it comes to equity in our schools. She doesn’t understand Seattle’s context, and she would be a lateral, uninspired, choice. No.
Denise Juneau - Yes. She was the only candidate who seemed to understand that systemic change of this kind will involve making unpopular decisions and leading folks along on the path to equity. She has a track record of speaking the truth and prioritizing the most marginalized kids and families. As a gay Native woman, she would bring a perspective we truly have not seen at the helm of Seattle’s schools. She conveyed the most potential for leading a radical departure from the status quo.
Andre Spencer - No, he’s not quite the one. He’s close, but he does not strike me as being ready to transform a massive, ultra-political school district like Seattle’s. He avoided answering questions about redistributing PTSA funding. He referred quite often to engaging businesses by offering them something in return, and to individual, one-on-one intervention strategies with struggling students as opposed to methods of driving systemic change. He has passion and his heart is in the right place. I have no doubt he’s doing good work, but I don’t see him being the visionary leader to guide systemic change in Seattle’s schools at this time.
Board chair Leslie Harris said as the meeting wrapped up that they planned to announce their choice at Wednesday’s board meeting next week.
You can still email your thoughts to the board and district leadership as they make their decision: email@example.com goes to all top district leadership, including the board; firstname.lastname@example.org goes just to board members.