Montana's former Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau was selected Wednesday night as the next superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.
Juneau was one of the three finalists Seattle's school board interviewed for the job. She unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat against Republican Ryan Zinke for Montana's U.S. House seat in 2016 and recently started a consulting firm.
Now, Juneau will manage a district of nearly 54,000 students. She oversaw approximately 150,000 students in Montana, but does not have experience in an urban school district or with a student body as diverse as Seattle's.
At the helm of the largest school district in Washington, Juneau will be responsible for closing large achievement gaps and coping with a significant budget shortfall.
Juneau must complete contract negotiations before her selection is finalized.
Although the school board conducted her interview privately, Juneau and the two other finalists participated in a public forum where she touted her experience in addressing achievement gaps and prioritizing resources in a state that doesn’t adequately fund public education.
“Elections matter,” she said. “You need to get public education advocates elected to those offices because when you don’t, this is what happens,” she said.
But until that happens, Juneau told the public she was prepared to have tough conversations about where to put limited resources.
Juneau talked about her Graduation Matters initiative, which she credited for increasing state graduation rates from 81 percent when she took office as superintendent in 2009 to 86 percent in 2017. She also brought up the Schools of Promise program, which was designed to help schools, most often with a high poverty rate, work with students who weren’t meeting academic standards. All of the Schools of Promise schools were on reservations, and Juneau said that experience provided the necessary skills to work on closing achievement gaps in Seattle.
Juneau noted the data shows Schools of Promise worked in some areas, but the evidence she needed came through conversations.
“The real proof came when you would be sitting in a restaurant in their town and you could hear parents talk about how much more welcoming the school was, about how their student was much more engaged,” she said at the forum. “Those are sometimes things that you don’t see in the numbers.”
Juneau said another way to close achievement gaps and promote racial equity involves bringing all groups to the table and listening to those who are underserved. As an American Indian woman, she said she’s versed on the harm caused by racism.
“I understand the injustices that happen throughout history,” she said.
The Seattle Times reported Juneau will be the school district's fifth superintendent in 10 years and is expected to earn around $300,000.