OPINION: In Support of SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau

by David Beard, Warren Brown, Michael Byun, Rev. Roy Chang, Dwane Chappelle, Lisa Chick, Dr. Chemene Crawford, Gregory Davis, Janice Deguchi, James Dorsey, Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, Dr. Donald Felder, Michael Itti, Lee Lambert, Michelle Merriweather, Trish Millines Dziko, Selamawit Misgano, Munira Mohamed, Erin Okuno, Estela Ortega, Melissa Pailthorp, Shouan Pan, Constance Rice, Heidi Schillinger, Mia Tuan, Kevin Washington


To the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors:

We are writing to express our support for the leadership of Superintendent Denise Juneau, and our support for the renewal of her contract in December 2020. As you know, Denise Juneau began her tenure as Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools a little over two years ago, inheriting a district with significant strengths and significant weaknesses. Since then, she has effectively taken on the ordinary challenges of leading an urban public school district, as well as the extraordinary challenges of doing so during a global pandemic.

Systemic racial inequity has been a central and persistent challenge for Seattle Public Schools (SPS), an issue typical of school systems across the country. Superintendent Juneau has centered her work on addressing that inequity. She successfully completed a visionary new strategic plan centered on students furthest from educational justice. With the School Board adoption of the strategic plan, Superintendent Juneau created and found funding for the first ever Office of African American Male Achievement, designed to support the excellence of our Black male students and to address the systemic racism inherent in our public education system. In the days and months following the murder of George Floyd, organizations across the world began to consider how to advance racial equity, support Black lives, and embrace anti-racism. Superintendent Juneau’s attention to this work preceded this new racial reckoning, and was prescient and proactive in the face of a decades-long crisis for our SPS students. We believe in and support her vision for racial equity and educational justice, and it is critical that she is given the time and support needed to move that vision forward.

When the COVID-19 crisis began, Superintendent Juneau acted swiftly, taking on the challenges facing our students, families, and teachers. She effectively led the district through a move to 100 percent remote learning, ensuring ongoing food distribution for students and families, creating accessible child care, and providing 1:1 devices for all SPS students. She and her team made adjustments along the way as they learned more about the impacts of COVID and received direction from the Governor and OSPI. Under her leadership, the district successfully negotiated a new contract with the Seattle Education Association despite perilous conditions. She has led with vision, drive, empathy, and focus in both ordinary and extraordinary times.

Superintendent Juneau is our 7th superintendent for Seattle Public Schools since the year 2000. This type of turnover would destabilize any organization, and has had a significant negative impact on the health, well-being, and progress of our local public schools. We believe a leadership transition in the context of a global pandemic, racial reckoning, political unrest, and financial instability will quickly become an untenable situation. During these times, our students, families, and educators need and deserve leadership stability. That said, we are not interested in longevity for longevity’s sake, nor in maintaining a leader during a global crisis simply to maintain the status quo. We believe Superintendent Juneau is moving Seattle Public Schools in the right direction for the long term, and that our community is fortunate to have her at the helm of our district.

No leader is perfect — not Superintendent Juneau, not the signers of this letter, and not any of our SPS School Board Directors. Superintendent Juneau has made mistakes and missteps, but she is also making significant progress, and we believe she can lead the District to critical new milestones. We recognize the urgency of the work the Superintendent is undertaking to address the long-time inequities in our public school system, and the extreme challenges all public school districts are facing during the pandemic. We understand that lasting change takes commitment, diligence, persistence, collaboration, and time. We are grateful to the SPS School Board for selecting a superintendent in Denise Juneau who has the vision, smarts, persistence, and determination to pursue racial equity and a quality education for our students and to lead us through today’s unique challenges. In order to move the strategic plan and the district forward, it is imperative that you support Superintendent Juneau, and that we collaborate, recognize successes, and give each other grace to struggle, to sometimes fail, and to persist. We expect no less of our students, who are at the heart of our public education system. In November, please extend Superintendent Juneau’s tenure with a renewed contract. We ask this for the benefit and well-being of all Seattle Public School students.

Sincerely,

David Beard      
Policy & Advocacy Director        
School’s Out Washington

Warren Brown
Executive Director
College Spark

Michael Byun   
Executive Director         
Asian Counseling and Referral Service

Rev. Roy Chang
Pastor  
Seattle Chinese Alliance Church

Dwane Chappelle           
Director, Department of Education and Early Learning    
City of Seattle

Lisa Chick           
President & CEO             
Alliance for Education

Dr. Chemene Crawford 
President
North Seattle College

Gregory Davis   
Managing Strategist      
Rainier Beach Action Coalition

Janice Deguchi 
Executive Director         
Neighborhood House & Asian Pacific Director Coalition Chair

James Dorsey   
President & CEO             
College Success Foundation

Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange            
President           
Seattle Colleges

Dr. Donald Felder
TOSS

Michael Itti        
Executive Director         
CISC (Chinese Information Service Center)

Lee Lambert     
Vice President & Executive Director       
City Year Seattle

Michelle Merriweather
President & CEO             
Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle

Trish Millines Dziko       
Executive Director         
TAF

Selamawit Misgano
Program Director           
Tesfa Program (COVID-19 response for Ethiopians in King County)

Munira Mohamed         
Executive Director         
East African Community Service

Erin Okuno        
Executive Director         
Southeast Seattle Education Coalition

Estela Ortega    
CEO      
El Centro de la Raza

Melissa Pailthorp           
Executive Director         
Team Read

Shouan Pan       
Chancellor        
Seattle Colleges

Constance Rice               
Education consultant

Heidi Schillinger
Founder & Principal       
Equity Matters

Mia Tuan            
Dean    
UW College of Education

Kevin Washington          
Education Chair
Tabor 100


Featured image courtesy of Seattle Public Schools.