Juneau named a finalist for Seattle Public Schools superintendent

“Every time a door of opportunity opens, you have to make a choice whether to walk through that door,” Denise Juneau told Missoula Current last year. “I’ve been able to do a lot of things and walk through those doors of opportunity, and it has led to things I would never have imagined.” (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Denise Juneau, former Montana congressional candidate and an applicant for the University of Montana’s presidency last year, is one of three finalists for superintendent of schools in Seattle.

Juneau will participate in a final round of interviews with Seattle Public Schools board members and staff this week, and will appear at a public forum on Thursday evening.

She served two terms as Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, during which she led the statewide initiative Graduation Matters Montana, an effort that made a significant difference in graduation rates statewide.

Juneau was the first Native American woman to hold statewide elected office in Montana. She is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe.

She has a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a juris doctorate from the University of Montana’s Blewett School of Law.

Seattle Public Schools is a district of 53,000 students. The contract of the current superintendent, Larry Nyland, ends this June and has not been renewed.

In a letter to the district’s parents, students and teachers, board president Leslie Harris emphasized the importance of community feedback – as Seattle schools have not hired a superintendent since 2012.

“The next superintendent will need to build on our success and address the opportunities and challenges of our rapidly growing city and district,” Harris wrote. “We will need to continue to address both capacity and funding crises that require coordinated, cross-sector actions aimed at raising the bar for all of our students.”

At Thursday night’s forum, each of the finalists will make a presentation and answer questions. The presentations will occur sequentially; candidates will not be presenting or answering questions together.

The school board intends to select one finalist with which to negotiate a contract at its April 4 meeting. A final vote is expected on April 25.

In November 2016, Juneau lost her race as the Democratic Party nominee for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House to then-incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke.

The race coincided with the end of Juneau’s tenure (because of the state’s term limits) as superintendent of public instruction.

Following the election, Juneau moved to Missoula and told the Missoula Current that she was intent on exploring new possibilities for the next chapter of her life. Those options included her application to serve as UM’s president. However, she was not named a finalist for that job.

“Every time a door of opportunity opens, you have to make a choice whether to walk through that door,” Juneau told Missoula Current. “I’ve been able to do a lot of things and walk through those doors of opportunity, and it has led to things I would never have imagined.”

During her tenure as Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, Juneau managed an agency that claimed a $1 billion budget with 180 employees. She worked with every school across the state, including 140,000 students and 12,000 teachers.

She was most proud, Juneau said, of her work as superintendent to establish Graduation Matters Montana in 58 communities – and not only boosted graduation rates, but raised the standards as well.

“It really was about building a longer table and making sure everyone had a role to play in all the big initiatives we had,” Juneau said. “That’s really what built the sustainability of those projects. We were really able to keep public education public.”

The other two finalists for the Seattle superintendent’s job are:

  • Andre D. Spencer, the superintendent of Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, Colo., for five years. Prior to his arrival in Harrison, Spencer served four years in the United States Army and worked in the Baltimore City Public School System for 13 years as a science teacher, assistant principal, principal, and network team lead (area support superintendent).
  • Jeanice Kerr Swift, a lifetime educator, who has served as classroom teacher, teacher coach, principal and school district administrator. She has been the superintendent of schools for Ann Arbor Public Schools since August 2013.