The Search for Seattle Public Schools’ Next Superintendent Should be More Intentional

by Erin Okuno

Seattle Public Schools’ Board of Directors has launched a search for their next Superintendent. Last fall the school board voted to not renew Superintendent Nyland’s contract and quietly opened the search process. The Superintendent is one of two employees hired by the board. Other employees working at schools fall under individual districts. The Superintendent role is important for setting a clear direction for 103 Seattle schools serving 53,000 students.

Under the direction of Ray and Associates, a national consulting firm they hired to lead the search, the board plans to search for a replacement over a marathon two-half-month span. Ray and Associates specialize in school leader searches and has a process for finding and recruiting superintendents. Both the school board and consultants expect to name the next superintendent by March 26, 2018.

A concerned group of community members, including many people of color, are asking why the hiring process is happening so quickly and how authentic and engaging a community process this can be with such an accelerated timeline. To achieve racial equity, this process should be grounded in process equity. Over three-dozen community leaders and parents, many with ties to South Seattle, sent a letter to the school board asking why the process is moving so fast and about the process: “This search process can be used to build trust and goodwill with the community. Building relationships and goodwill takes time and patience. As community partners, we want to work with you to select the next superintendent.”

According to school board documents, community engagement in the search process included two days of constituent and stakeholder meetings. Over those two days, the consultants held four conversations with community partners of Seattle Public Schools and one public townhall. The townhall attracted about thirty people.

Dozens of signed postcards asking the Seattle School Board to slow down or postpone the search process. [Photo: Erin Okuno]
The consultants from Ray and Associates also launched a survey with a list of thirty preselected attributes of desired qualities to choose from in the new superintendent. In a true community supported and driven search process community members would have been able to influence and held power to shape what attributes made it onto the list and been engaged in the outreach efforts to collect feedback.

Instead, the list of desired qualifications was mostly race-neutral with one attribute referencing ethnicity. There were 2,090 surveys collected with almost 70% of them coming from people who self-identified as white. Seattle Public Schools is now serving a student body that is 54% students of color. The results of this survey do not reflect the demographics of a district the Superintendent will be leading. While the results of the survey were shared with the board, at a February 7 board work session the results of the survey were not disaggregated by race. It also wasn’t clear to the board how the results would be used to inform the search process.

The consultants provided the survey in languages other than English, however, very few people utilized these translated surveys. Seattle Public Schools has a 12% transitional bilingual student population and Southeast Seattle has a larger proportion of English Language Learner students than in other areas across the city.

Process Equity

A group of 33 people from 29 organizations and individuals signed a letter to the School Board asking for the following:

  1. Slow down or postpone the search process to ensure adequate time and ability for community members, families, and stakeholders to give input and have the input used.
  2. Practice transparency to build trust: Information needs to be shared with the public to ensure we are informed and know what is happening and how our input is able to shape the search process.
  3. Shared decision making: Community members need greater importance in the decision-making process, beyond simply providing input.

The signers to the letter are asking for the school board to work with them and use this process to build mutual trust and acknowledge the important knowledge and community ties held at the community level. The teacher’s union and principal’s union have also asked the board to postpone the search process. Moving ahead with a deadline of March 26 doesn’t allow for the time to do so.

According to King County’s Equity Impact Review Process working towards process equity means having an inclusive, fair, and open decision-making process. Thus far the timeline has been driven by the school board and the search consultants. Ray and Associates have reiterated several times in meetings that there are two superintendent hiring seasons, one being January to April.  David Beard with School’s Out Washington says “While we appreciate Ray and Associates sharing there is a time of year that is best for hiring superintendents, it is more important to have an inclusive process that includes robust inclusion of communities of color. If the district is truly dedicated to closing opportunity gaps, then the hiring process for the district’s leader must be reflective of that intention.”

We are again asking the school board to slow down this search process. We won’t achieve racial equity until processes are designed to achieve process equity. This decision is too important to make in two-and-a-half-months. Please take a moment to share your thoughts with the school board by emailing

Erin Okuno is the Executive Director of the South Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), a coalition of Community Based Organizations (CBOs), schools, educators, community leaders, parents and caregivers, and concerned SE Seattle residents working to improve education for all children, especially those in SE Seattle and those further away from opportunities.

3 thoughts on “The Search for Seattle Public Schools’ Next Superintendent Should be More Intentional”

  1. Great summary and update, thanks!

    Whatever the final pick, I hope we get a superintendent with local roots. I don’t want to go through the same situation as we did with Jose Banda, who jumped ship after realizing the depth of dysfunction within the district and board. I wish we would have just locked in Susan Enfield, the interim superintendent before Banda, when we had the chance instead of going through a national search.

  2. There are so many challenges we face with education as a country. Please do what is right to respect the district and all participants in a process about them and not just “policy”
    Thank you