by Agueda Pacheco Flores
The Highline School District kicks off its academic year with a new superintendent, Ivan Duran — the first Latino ever to hold the position.
The district, which serves Burien, Des Moines, SeaTac, Normandy Park, and neighborhoods in White Center, has had a majority Latino student body since at least 2015. Duran replaces Susan Enfield, who had the position for a decade. According to data from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Highline School District Latino students make up nearly 40% of the more than 18,000 enrolled students as of the last academic school year. Statewide, Latino students only make up 25% percent of enrollment.
Before Duran took the position earlier this summer, he had a brief one-year stint at the Renton School District, where he helped direct and prioritize federal funds as the chief of acceleration and recovery. He was also the superintendent for the Bellevue School District from 2017 to 2021. At Bellevue, he took an interest in the disparity of achievement between its low-income students who come from underrepresented communities compared with its Asian and white student population.
“I was able to lead the [Bellevue School] District for four years,” he says, “[but] was really looking forward to serving a more diverse community that is more similar to the experience that I grew up in.”
Duran, who is Mexican American, says he struggled as a young student. His school experience also includes anti-Mexican harassment when he was bussed from his neighborhood to his white suburban middle school.
Prior to arriving at Highline School District, he also worked in Denver and Dallas, two areas where Latinos and Students of Color also make up large majorities. He says Highline is closer to looking like the communities he has experience in, but is quick to add that no Latino community is a monolith, with students coming from all over Latin America and some speaking an Indigenous language as their first language before Spanish. Both Duran’s parents spoke Spanish at home.
“[In] Washington, Latino families are spread out in different areas. It’s different here on the west side compared to the east side,” he says, adding, “I think this is more true now in our times that Latino communities are made up of individuals like me whose families have been here for generations to newly arrived immigrant families who are here to try to seek the best experiences for their students.”
Virginia Herrera-Páramo, executive director of Para Los Niños, a South King County nonprofit that provides educational programs for Latino and Spanish-speaking students and that has partnered with Highline School District, says she was pleased to learn Duran spoke Spanish. She participated in finalist interviews and organization meetings.
“So many organizations talk a lot about what needs to take place and say, ‘We need to hire more people from the community,’ but they don’t do it, but in this case, it serves as a good role model,” Herrera-Páramo says.
Still, she’s curious what the new superintendent’s plan for the budget will look like, given Highline is much different in that regard compared with Bellevue School District. Highline spends about $17,600 per student, whereas Bellevue spends around $19,700. Meanwhile 71% of Highline students are considered low-income, compared with only 19% of students at Bellevue.
“I think he knows how to make money,” she says. “I think he will do a good job. The problem is how he will prioritize the needs, especially in a community that hasn’t been well served, the BIPOC community … and, of course, the Latinx community.”
Herrera-Páramo believes all the Latinos in the region, whether students or parents, have something to gain from seeing someone they identify with in a leadership position.
So far, Duran says he is focused on getting to know the district community, but is starting to review the budget from last year and consider what they can invest in this year. “We received a big source of funding from the federal government through the American Rescue Act,” he says.
Earlier this summer, at a barbecue for building and facilities employees, Duran had the chance to meet some of the workers. Duran says one of them came up and struck up a conversation in Spanish.
“She was just so happy and I think really proud,” Duran recalls. “I hope that is how all of our Latino families and students will feel, just proud that there’s a Latino leader who is here to support them and all of our students.”
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
📸 Featured Image: Highline School District’s first Latino superintendent, Ivan Duran, during a visit to summer school classes at McMicken Heights Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Highline School District)
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