Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

The Seattle School Board is in the beginning stages of finding a new superintendent to lead Seattle Public Schools. Also, they're apparently near the finish line.

Despite the fact that the application materials still aren’t available online, Ray and Associates, the firm chosen to conduct the search, still lists Feb. 28 as the deadline to apply. The board, meanwhile, after opening their ears to a brief moment of community input, has apparently decided to stay the course and still plans to hire the new superintendent before the end of March.

That doesn't give us much time.

First off, here's what the board says they're looking for in a candidate (from a flyer advertising details about the position):


I appreciate that our opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines are called out in the very first bullet. I appreciate that the search committee acknowledges the “opportunities” as well as the “challenges presented by an ethnically and culturally diverse community.” I believe this wording falls a bit short of demonstrating an understanding of diversity as an asset, but it’s in the ballpark.

But here’s the thing: I’m not holding my breath expecting any of this to happen. We have no evidence that this school board is capable of making a decision of this magnitude that will reflect the needs of our most-marginalized communities.

I want to make sure I'm clear about this: I don’t think the Seattle School Board is intentionally discriminatory. Willingly slow-moving, yes, but not malicious. Not overtly, purposefully racist.

I believe the individual directors on the school board have good intentions. I believe the board wants to solve these issues of inequity, that it wants to find a superintendent with the qualities needed to close our gaps and forge a new path for our students and our schools.

I also have no evidence and no confidence that they’re capable of executing on those good intentions.

In other words, my skepticism is about their skill, not their will. 

Leslie Harris is the current president of the Seattle School Board. That means Leslie Harris is leading the search for a new superintendent. The same Leslie Harris who used the term “ghetto school” with a straight face during a public board meeting recently and has never acknowledged the offense, let alone apologized for incident, let alone resigned her position. The same Leslie Harris who delivered a microaggression to a West Seattle student presenting at a public board meeting last year.

These could be dismissed as forgivable examples or slips of the tongue, but Harris has never had the humility to address these issues after the fact. And because the incidents themselves happened during public board meetings, when she is presumably watching what she says, and have not since been amended or corrected, we can assume she stands by these statements as representative of her beliefs and thought patterns.

So, she means well, but that’s not enough. We can't trust her to do well by our kids. I don’t think Leslie Harris has the skill to navigate this situation.

That means the person leading the search for a new superintendent in Seattle is probably herself problematic enough as to undermine the whole process.

We are facing opportunity gaps that have roots dating back to the founding of our education system. It is going to take unprecedented vision and courage from leadership to truly impact these inequities. I don’t see Harris or the current board even beginning to understand what’s at stake here.

We seem destined for more tepid leadership, and more lip service about the systemic racism in our schools. 

What will we do if the result of this search process is unacceptable? To continue to participate in the system — even if we simultaneously continue advocating for equity — feels like it won’t be enough. We will still be complicit through our acceptance.

We need to push hard, using what time we do still have, for the board to choose a bold, equity-minded leader who will take us where we need to go come hell or high water.

And we also need to be prepared for them to fail to hire that person. What will we do then?