Superintendent Denise Juneau announces she’s leaving Seattle Public Schools

(WSB photo, 2018)

Another high-profile departure announcement today – Seattle Public Schools will be looking for a new superintendent, again. After 2 1/2 years, Denise Juneau has just announced her plan to leave after her three-year contract is up next year:

It has been the greatest honor of my professional journey to serve Seattle Public Schools students, families, school leaders, educators, and staff.

While the past two and a half years have been extraordinary and deeply fulfilling, I am today announcing that I am leaving Seattle Public Schools. I will not seek a new contract and will not be serving the district beyond the conclusion of my current contract, which finishes at the end of June 2021.

Her statement continues with a mention of the pain caused by the pandemic – including losing her father to the virus recently. And she seems to acknowledge recent calls for her resignation, as well as a report that the new school board president was not certain the board would support renewing her contract:

And now, there has never been a more important time for unity and healing. For progress to continue in Seattle, the full-throated support of a united school board is essential. This school board must choose a superintendent with whom they can co-lead and move forward together.

The board approved Juneau’s hiring in April 2018. She succeeded Larry Nyland, who had been superintendent since 2014, following José Banda, who had the job for two years. Juneau had previously been state superintendent in Montana, before an unsuccessful run for Congress.

37 Replies to "Superintendent Denise Juneau announces she's leaving Seattle Public Schools"

  • onion December 8, 2020 (3:20 pm)

    When top level manager such as school superintendents and police chiefs  resign prematurely , and when mayors choose to not seek reelection, the decision can be seen as a judgement on civic health. Put simply, why don’t these people want to work for us?

    • Frog December 8, 2020 (3:29 pm)

      If there was an insane asylum where management was elected by the inmates, you would expect high turnover.  No one would exist who simultaneously 1) could do the job; 2) would want the job; and 3) could get elected by the inmates (or appointed by their elected representatives).  Welcome to Seattle.

    • B Dawg December 8, 2020 (3:38 pm)

      It’s commonly said in HR that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. Think about that.

      • Brandon December 8, 2020 (5:28 pm)

        Very true.  If they loved their job and working environment, there would be great candidates tripping over themselves.  It shouldn’t be a quota, it should be a qualified candidate.  Coming from a smaller school district, that it hasn’t worked out doesn’t surprise me.

      • Pelicans December 9, 2020 (6:10 pm)

        Wow. Never thought of it that way. You’re right, as far as my experience has gone. 

  • Rick December 8, 2020 (3:42 pm)

    They’re too smart.

  • Kram December 8, 2020 (4:09 pm)

    I don’t think the three high profile positions are connected to each other. All three are hard, demanding thankless jobs in which nearly 50% of people automatically hate every decision you make. The work load is impossibly heavy and nobody focuses on the wins/positive. All three will have a much better work/life balance going into the private sector and likely be paid more too.

    • Heartless? December 8, 2020 (5:34 pm)

      The positions aren’t directly connected, but Onion and Frog are right on point. This is a Seattle civic and societal problem. Expect more of the same as we continue moving to the left.

      • BBILL December 8, 2020 (6:49 pm)

        “This is a Seattle civic and societal problem.” What exactly is the ‘problem?’

        • YYinWestwood December 8, 2020 (10:36 pm)

          @Heartless?  – It is not just about the left – its extremes to both sides. Modern politics lacks  the ability to compromise. It’s a constant US vs THEM with no ability to find a happy place in the middle. I think @Kram describes it well. For any public office/elected official, it will be difficult to get good candidates – especially with all the increase and constant scrutiny.  

          • PedroTheLion December 9, 2020 (6:37 am)

            In a national political environment that’s true. Here in Seattle there is only one side of the political spectrum – the left. There is no middle, right or far right.  While the citizens cut across the spectrum (hence the approximate 65% disapproval rating for the city council) the elected officials all lean one way; with it often being a contest to see who can to further left. This paradigm appears to be largely borne from the far left, who in a Trump like fashion vilify and denigrate anyone who dares not toe their precise political line.  There is no real “marketplace of ideas” in Seattle politics – only monolithic, myopic group think.  Where else but in Seattle would you see a liberal like our mayor portrayed as a right wing hack by its city council?

          • JVP December 9, 2020 (8:58 am)

            @YYINWESTWOOD I totally agree that it’s the extremes on both sides, at a national scale. Seattle only has the far left. I wonder how we get voters here to think more pragmatically? Local government is less about ideology and more about getting stuff done in an effective way. We’ve lost focus on effectiveness by voting for idealogues. 

          • BBILL December 9, 2020 (10:07 am)

            Aside from the fact that “the problem” has yet to be described, as requested earlier, if “Seattle only has ‘the far left,'” how can Seattle “continue moving to the left?”

        • Heartless? December 9, 2020 (1:19 pm)

           @BBILL, several posters throughout this thread have touched upon “the problem”.  Boiling it down, the problem seems to be “unrealistic expectations and demands”.  Closing the achievement gap is an unrealistic dream IMO.  In any case, its certainly not going to happen in two years.  The left in this city is full of dreamers and demanders with unrealistic expectations, and its not just regarding schools.

          • BBILL December 9, 2020 (3:44 pm)

            If “unrealistic expectations and demands” are only associated with “the left,” then yes, I can now understand where most of the population of Seattle is part of “the left,” especially when it comes to fixing a certain bridge.

          • 1994 December 9, 2020 (9:10 pm)

            You nailed it. Seattle has many unrealistic expectations and demands for change, and expects them to be fulfilled in a short time frame but doesn’t give the city leaders a chance these days.  Society has been working on closing the achievement gap since the 1960s, who knows if it will ever be achieved?

      • wscommuter December 9, 2020 (10:44 am)

        I think there are some really valid points being made here.  I’m a lifelong Democrat, but candidly, a moderate D; not a far-left D.  The national trend in politics to demonize those we disagree with plainly started on the right, but now, the extreme folks on both sides have embraced the same destructive modes of advocacy.  These days, I often don’t see any difference between the tactics used by Donald Trump and his ilk and those used by Kshama Sawant and the far left here.  Thus, particularly here in Seattle, where there is no meaningful R power base, the struggle lies between the moderate left and the far left.  And the far left has, in recent years, decided that it’s own form of vilification is an “ends-justify-the-means” way of operating.  Hence Sawant gives out Jenny Durkan’s home address and protesters now feel entitled to harass elected officials outside their homes late at night … and if one criticizes those actions,  then the far-left sanctimoniously says you’re not sufficiently “woke” or falls back on some hipster insult, like calling a person a “Karen”.   So now we have this problem where a loud portion of the electorate in Seattle wants a dramatic shift to the far left: defund the police 50%, kill Amazon, etc. and eat alive the politicians who fail to toe their extremist views.  I don’t see a solution; I wish I did.   And in the meantime, we keep eating up our leaders.  It’s easy to tear down; much more difficult to build.  The thing about building is that if you refuse to listen to other perspectives, nothing gets built.  The far left may currently be the loudest, but here in Seattle, they are still a minority amongst all the rest of us.  It would behoove them to consider that political reality, in terms of actually accomplishing anything.  

        • Pelicans December 9, 2020 (6:29 pm)

          Very well said. It’s about time someone did. Thank you.

        • Bradley December 10, 2020 (5:52 pm)

          wscommuter I’d like to give you 10 thumbs up. When a city forces out its African American police chief, a gay mayor Madame, and a Native American School superintendent, I’m not sure the city can lean farther Left. 

    • Brian December 8, 2020 (9:41 pm)

      Oh boo hoo here’s a tiny violin for the overpaid politicians who suck at their jobs.  

      • zark00 December 9, 2020 (9:58 am)

        @ Brian – THANK YOU!!  The paychecks are enormous, their efforts at their jobs were not. Durkan has mishandled almost every challenge that she has been presented with, from teh WSB to the Chop she just mishandled everything. Juneau literally told us ‘SPS is not able to provide remote learning’ – literally just said ‘we can’t do it’.  She was sitting on $19M in funds earmarked for technology including remote learning, refused to use it.  Fact is Juneau is out because she was going to be removed for failing at her job. The one thing Juneau is supposed to be good at is equity, well, the NAACP of Washington is calling for her immediate removal for failing students of color.

        • WS98 December 11, 2020 (2:13 am)

          @zark00, you’re 100% wrong about Denise Juneau. SPS is broken and no one could possibly ‘fix’ it in 2 years without proper funding while being micromanaged by a BoD that doesn’t get it.

  • ACG December 8, 2020 (4:22 pm)

    Yikes. The turnover in this position isn’t good. I hope they can attract a decent candidate, but I’m concerned that someone really qualified won’t want to become ringmaster of this circus. Per the Seattle Times “ She is the third superintendent to lead the district in the past eight years, and the seventh superintendent since 2000.”

  • Brabndon December 8, 2020 (5:25 pm)

    It might be time to completely upend the apple cart.  City Council.  School Board.  DOT.  Planning & Development.  Sound Transit.   This City/County/State is a hot mess.

    • BBILL December 8, 2020 (5:59 pm)

      The best response to a very high turnover rate is to take action to engineer an even higher turnover?

    • 22blades December 9, 2020 (7:46 am)

      We are surviving the consequences of a national government led by scorched earth “principles”. I don’t believe you’ll find any successful entity that says governance by chaos is functional much less effective.

      • BBILL December 9, 2020 (10:11 am)

        “I don’t believe you’ll find any successful entity that says governance by chaos is functional much less effective.” Depends on one’s objectives, and I’ve seen a variety of personal objectives in the comments here on West Seattle Blog.

  • You get what you elect December 8, 2020 (5:38 pm)

    A report in 2018 indicated that among the 100 largest school districts, of which Seattle ranks 83rd, the average length of tenure for a superintendent is 6.16 years but is lower for female superintendents lower at 5.18.  Among the 100 largest school districts average tenure is lower for school districts under 100,000 students like Seattle at 5.05.  It is also lower for districts that have a higher proportion of low-income students and for districts that have higher proportions of students of color.  The report does not disaggregate the data for superintendents that are hired by an elected board of 7 members of which 4 were not in office when the superintendent was hired.  If one iteration of the elected board asks the leader to set a goal and agenda and the next board does not like the direction or the results of the elected board then it makes it difficult for a superintendent hired by one board to do the work of the next board. Unfortunately for Seattle, qualifying for an elected school board spot does not require knowing anything about schools, operations, learning, budgets, transportation, contracts, law or the other work of a school district.  Amorphous promises to “change” the system tend to win the most votes in each voting district to the detriment of the Seattle Public Schools in general.

  • flimflam December 8, 2020 (7:08 pm)

    Always looks better to quit than be fired…

  • 1994 December 8, 2020 (9:15 pm)

    Ms Juneau did not feel the support from the school board…..maybe they too should consider moving on.  School superintendent is a tough job and even tougher in a community difficult to satisfy.

  • Mark47n December 9, 2020 (4:59 am)

    Ultimately a district Superintendent is an administrator not politician and I would hardly call them over paid. They have a difficult job interfacing with the public and the school board (politicians who are elected). In this city/district the the superintendent is often excoriated for doing nothing more or less than the job for which they have been hired. If you need more evidence of this all you need do is read the comments here to understand the lack of understanding of their job and of the forces that oppose them, even if they should be  aligned (again, the school board).So many want to see quantum leaps in the schools but are unreasonably disappointed when it doesn’t happen and just assume incompetence. More to my astonishment,  how is it that a region with so many millionaires, even billionaires, can have such poor schools? Of course, those areas and their stupidly wealthy can fund their local schools that their children attend, if they attend public schools at all, since taxes and fundraising from one neighborhood stay in that neighborhood school leaving wealthy neighborhoods with well funded schools and poor neighborhoods with poor schools which is another example of institutionalized inequity and is a great example of systemic racism at play.Perhaps what we really need is a committee to study the school board (another committee) while utilizing the PTSA (another committee) it oversee the administration of the individual schools. These two committees can report to an overseeing panel that will advise…well, no one, since the school district is not a part of the city as far as governance goes. After all all of these committees ensure that all possible vitriolic screeds and uninformed opinions, (I know how to manage a business because  have a small business!) are incorporated into their self-important deliverable – I hate that word – that they will present to…whom, exactly? After all this is the Seattle way, isn’t it? We know better than the people that have been involved with education for their entire lives, right? No wonder no one wants to be an educator! A difficult job, the unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of the general public, coupled with the peculiar idea that schools and teachers are a daycare facility!

    • Peter S. December 9, 2020 (11:47 am)

      Mark47n:  Although you and I may differ on multiple issues (based on respective previous posts), I think you accurately nailed this one.

  • arabianrhino December 9, 2020 (9:18 am)

    You don’t have to be a right-winger to recognize that Seattle Public Schools is in a terrible state and is unmanageable. It will be 8 superintendents in 19 years? Red flashing light. One of the best “candidates” was Dr. Susan Enfeld who was an interim super a few years back and she gave the job a hard pass. She instead went to Highline a smaller, poorer, and arguably has a more challenging student population. By most accounts she is doing well there. The activist-progressive are demanding a savior to come and cure all of society’s ills. How about trimming the admin overhead, hire better teachers, pay them more, FIRE the bad ones (that usually are shoehorned into the poor neighborhood schools), and do the job of educating our children? Instead we’ll get shouted slogans, a jobs program for unaccountable educators, and an ever widening achievement gap. We get what we deserve.

  • BBILL December 9, 2020 (10:14 am)

    It’s all very easy. Compare and contrast: ” How about trimming the admin overhead, hire better teachers, pay them
    more, FIRE the bad ones (that usually are shoehorned into the poor
    neighborhood schools), and do the job of educating our children?” to “Instead
    we’ll get shouted slogans, a jobs program for unaccountable educators,
    and an ever widening achievement gap.” Yes, yes, it’s all easy, just “pay more” and “FIRE the bad ones,” as if that’s not a “shouted slogan.”

    • arabianrhino December 9, 2020 (11:33 am)

      BBILL – Maybe I’m affecting change and creating a new activism?! Haven’t seen FIRE the bad teachers yet on a woke placard, but maybe we can get it going.One trait that both police and teacher’s unions share is their reluctance to hold their members accountable. Often bad behavior and poor performance leads to nothing more than just a shuffle off to another station. For bad teachers and principals, that next stop is often to the lower income neighborhood school with underprivileged kids and zero PTA/community involvement. Incremental accountability from the district and the SEA of its members would greatly benefit the children with the most need.

      • BBILL December 9, 2020 (3:47 pm)

        “For bad teachers and principals, that next stop is often to the lower
        income neighborhood school with underprivileged kids and zero
        PTA/community involvement.” I’m not convinced that we agree on the definition of “bad teacher” being someone who is willing to work with “underprivileged kids,” but if that’s what makes a “bad teacher,” I’m thankful they exist.

      • Admiral Mom December 13, 2020 (9:20 pm)

        @arabianrhino – SPS is so rotten they have managed to debunk all stereotypes. The former principal at Stevens was given the option to resign his principal position although he was under investigation for abuse and retaliation. And then guess what? He got placed by SPS as a third grade teacher at Cascadia Elementary, a north end school, one of the whitest schools in the system, home to one of the very few highly capable programs in Seattle, with a very strong PTA. Stay woke

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