Who wants to run Seattle Schools?

Apr 22, 2012, 5:56 PM | Updated: 6:06 pm

Seattle has driven out its share of school superintendents. This week Seattle welcomes three candidates as the board prepares to hire a new leader for the state’s largest school district.

Below, read a guest blog post from Seattle School Board member Kay Smith-Blum.


Jose Banda, Steven Enoch and Sandra Husk will each hold news conferences this week and meet with educators and parents in Seattle Schools. The school board will make a decision by early May. Photos courtesy SPS

We are now almost to the finish line in choosing the next superintendent for Seattle Public Schools. I believe the community may have a tough time choosing between the three well-qualified finalists. All have “sat in the seats,” having been teachers, principals, central administrators and finally, superintendents in both small and larger districts.

Each brings unique skill sets. One led a uniquely diverse team to a national forum, one created high tech school a decade ago and converted a district to solar energy and one convinced a major corporation to tax itself substantively for an upcoming building cycle.

Over the coming few days, union leaders will call their counterparts in the candidates’ districts, bloggers will Google them mercilessly, community focus groups will hone their questions for the upcoming Q & A sessions. Board members must stay open minded so that they might receive all input from staff and the public for due consideration.

How do we choose the best person for the job? What is the one question that will tip the scales for one candidate over another? What is the “right” answer and how does one determine the true character of a candidate during only a few hours of conversation? I think we must go back to our wish list and possibly embellish it a bit.

Our fall survey clearly indicated a preference for a leader steeped in instruction and learning. One who will put money into our classrooms first and support our teaching corps. We want a leader that recognizes our strengths: strong community support for our schools and levies, a well credentialed teaching staff, innovative program offerings and strong option schools, our ability to have a statewide political impact and a community with the resources to innovate.

As we introduce these candidates, as they tour our schools, meet our advocacy groups and speak with the press and senior staff, many questions will be posed. The key to who they will be as the new leader of SPS, is in their history:

Do they have a successful history of longevity in past positions, especially the classroom, and providing continuity in new ones?

Have they been involved in long range planning, both in instruction and capitol projects?

Do they have a visible and active style that promotes accessibility and availability?

Is there evidence that they themselves are a lifelong learner?

Is there evidence that they are a good listener?

Is there clear evidence they have worked successfully with diverse populations, closed gaps and raised graduation rates?

Do they have a reputation as an innovator and a doer, one that brings the community along with them?

There’s no substitute for effective, inspirational leadership. Excellent, committed teachers and administrators will beat a path to our door to work with such a leader. There is also no doubt we need someone who understands it is time to integrate learning into our students lives, not make their life fit into our antiquated instructional schedule. We have a new kind of learner, one with information at their fingertips. Our task has changed – from one of imparting information to one of teaching our students how best to use it. As one candidate stated, the 21st century is already 12 years old.

Jon Talton recently stated in the Pacific NW magazine, “we must reclaim something at the heart of the American promise: A balance between individualism and the truth that we’re all in this together….souls bound on the same journey.” I believe we need a superintendent who will help us find the balance our students deserve. If we look closely, this person will be about doing something, not about being somebody.


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