New Seattle Superintendent wants to close gap in racial equity

Dec 11, 2018, 8:44 AM | Updated: 10:18 pm
Denise Juneau, seattle Superintendent...
SPS superintendent Denise Juneau with a student. (Photo: AP)
(Photo: AP)

Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau has a good deal of issues on her desk regarding the district’s schools. One major problem she wants to tackle: A chasm in racial equity.

RELATED: Superintendent asks for patience amid potential teacher strikes

“It’s a huge opportunity gap between white students and students of color that we really need to dig in and get real about,” Juneau told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien on Seattle’s Morning News.

The district’s most recent scorecard notes widening racial achievement gaps in math, English, and suspensions/expulsions from the previous report.

“If we’re going to talk about racial equity, we need to get real and start living our values,” Juneau said. “It’s not easy, and they’re really hard conversations, but they’re necessary if we’re going to make sure that every student has access to a quality education.”

That extends to ensuring that faculties cover the racial gap as well. Juneau cited data that states one, simple fact: A diverse faculty only serves to help a diverse student body.

“Research shows when there are young students, and they see a teacher who looks like them in the classroom, they’re going to be more successful,” she said.

Juneau has also looked at the issue of equity from a socioeconomic standpoint.

“As I’ve been stepping into this role, I’ve been looking at all different kinds of equity issues — things just as simple as field trips,” she described. “Some schools are able to take their bands and orchestras on eight to 12 trips a year, and some can only go on one.”

Addressing other issues

A shortage of Seattle school bus drivers has left many routes delayed, leaving parents scrambling for carpools and other modes of transportation.

RELATED: Seattle school bus driver shortage creating rampant delays

The district has attempted to tackle the problem by raising starting hourly wages from $18 to $22 an hour, as well as hiring bonuses up to $3,000. And while that’s led to an uptick in applications, it still hasn’t been enough to properly service each of the district’s 369 routes.

Juneau doesn’t have a solution beyond what’s been tried already, but she’s still looking for creative solutions.

“Seattle is full of not just money but brainpower, and I want to bring together a group of people who can help me think through how we can deliver students differently next year,” she said.

That would entail the gathering of a think-tank of transportation experts to devise a fix for the driver shortage that goes beyond simply raising salary incentives.

“Yellow school buses make sense where I come from in Montana — they don’t make sense here in Seattle in such a congested urban area,” she said. “We need to figure out how to disrupt the system and do it different.”

All in all, Juneau remains optimistic about the future of the school district.

“What excited me about this job is because Seattle is talking about the right issues, and talking about the right values.”

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

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New Seattle Superintendent wants to close gap in racial equity