Seattle Schools Superintendent Finalist Denise Juneau

Denise Juneau is a Native American, enrolled in the Mandan Hidatsa tribe but also with Blackfeet tribe heritage.  She is turning 50 in April.  She is openly gay.  Her first job was working with her grandmother in a school lunch kitchen when she was 5.  She played high school basketball and her mother served in the Montana State Legislature.

She has a Master's from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Montana.  She served as a law clerk on the Montana Supreme Court.

She started her career in education as educational support staff in Browning, Montana.  She was briefly a teacher in North Dakota in a school on a reservation.  She then worked in the Montana Department of Public Instructions as the Director of Indian Education.  She was named Educator of the Year by the National Indian Education Association in 2009.   By 2009, the graduation rate in Montana was up 4.7% and the dropout rate was down 1.3%.

She ran and was elected as the Superintendent in the Office of Public Instruction from 2009-2017.
She served two terms but could not run again due to term limits.  One of her proudest achievements was "Indian Education for All" which put Native American curriculum into Montana public school.
While superintendent in Montana, she also helped to create a teacher evaluation system.   Her salary was $105,000.

In 2015 she received the Harvard alumini award for Outstanding Contribution to Education.  Also in 2015, she ran for the U.S. House against Republican Ryan Zinke.  She lost but made a good standing against the incumbent.  During that campaign she admitted that while she was an undergrad, she was arrested twice for DUI.  She said she learned from her mistakes.

She has a consulting firm, Blue Cloud consulting.  She also has a blog as part of her website.

She has been recognized by O Magazine as "a policy maker who gets things done."  She was also an Aspen-Rodel Fellow for Political Leadership in 2012.  There was talk that if Clinton had been elected president, Juneau was on the short list for Secretary of Education.

She applied in December 2016 for the position of president of the University of Montana but apparently did not get the job.

She recently received the Jeanette Rankin Award in March 2018 which is an award for those contributing to racial justice and educational equity.

A quote from Ms. Juneau:

Every time a door of opportunity opens, you have to make a choice whether to walk through that door,” Juneau said. “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.”

About her work at OPI:

Along the way, her office worked closely with 58 Montana communities and 458 businesses, ensuring everyone had a seat at the table. The efforts included Schools of Promise – an effort to improve low-performing schools on reservations – and giving students a voice in the education process.

“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.”

About charter schools:

During her tenure, Juneau said there wasn’t a legislative session in which one or more bills didn’t push toward privatization, charter schools and tax credits. With community partners, Juneau said, her office was able to hold those efforts at bay and ensure limited state funding went to public schools.

About creating a new teacher evaluation system:

Under Montana's new system, how much of an evaluation does the state require to be based on test scores?

“Zero,” Juneau said. However, she added, local school boards can include test scores if they want — and can negotiate that into contracts with local teachers' unions.

“We're not going to mandate that” from Helena, Juneau said. “There is no scientific evidence that proves tying student test scores to teacher evaluations makes teachers more effective.

“It's not proven, it's not workable. We're just not going to enter into that.”


Denise Juneau is amazing and we would be very lucky to have her as our next superintendent.
Anonymous said…
@ Robert Cruickshank, that's nice to hear, but not particularly helpful. Amazing in what ways? My admittedly still-cursory look at her experience suggests she has good experience to bring to bear re: tackling some of our "equity" concerns--although I'd love to know what the term means to her--but I haven't seen much yet re: her experience in schools, her experience meeting the needs of students of all ability levels, etc. There's a lot of focus on graduation rates and keeping kids in school, but not a lot about rigor and challenge at the top--the focus seems to be purely on those who are struggling. From the initial data I've seen, Montana doesn't seem to be a hotbed for advanced coursework, whereas Seattle should be.

Also, her website has a comment that "her trademark Graduation Matters initiative has allowed local districts to design their own graduation initiatives, with encouraging results." Given the Wild West atmosphere already too prevalent in SPS, I worry that this might not be the approach we need. We might need someone who's willing to figure out what we need, then make people implement. We've had enough of everyone running their own shows.

Is my first impression way off base? I'd love to hear more specifics about why you think she'd be so great, and for whom.

first look
Anonymous said…
Of the three candidates, Denise Juneau is the only one without ANY experience in a district administration. She hasn't managed a school building, let alone a school district. Being the state superintendent is a very different animal than being a district superintendent.

Her making the leap to leading a large urban district with no experience AT ALL in a district administration is just that --- a leap. I'm not saying she doesn't have the skill set but she certainly hasn't demonstrated it through experience.

And the people who are overtly supporting her right now, like Mr. Cruickshank, are using a litmus test and ignoring the facts I just laid out. Ms. Juneau appears to be anti-charter schools and anti-testing and that seems to be what these folks most care about.

We would be taking a huge chance on someone without the necessary experience to manage the difficulties and challenges of a large urban district. If this SPS board makes this particular hire, they are certainly signaling what is most important to them --- and a seasoned district administrator with a track record of success isn't the top of their priority list.

Annie Bell
Anonymous said…
Why is it that the first thing mentioned about each candidate is their gender, skin color and sexual orientation? Are these really more important than their professional qualifications and accomplishments? Descriptions presented this way validate the criticism that the candidate selection process is a "check the box" diversity driven activity.

I entered personal info first which also included martial status, activities, etc. Who someone is does seem to matter to the overall picture of a candidate.
Anonymous said…
Focus as that is what matters in Seattle, priorities are to the extrinsic and that they keep to the talking points then you wont be labeled or ostracized. We in Seattle like everyone to conform and keep to the script while making sure we contradict ourselves by preaching diversity.

Get with the program.. that is how we elect our Mayor and pick our Supe. Good times.

- Seattle Freezer
I have a lot of friends who live and work in Montana, including teachers and legislators. Every one of them has shared how much they like and respect Denise Juneau.

You're right that she hasn't led a district. Neither had John Stanford. Certainly Juneau will have to address that. But she does have a significant amount of administrative experience in schools. And that experience speaks well to her ability to implement the kind of solutions that work well for our schools. Just as one example to address a point made above, one of the things Juneau did in Montana is expand access to AP courses - something we have all said we want more of here in SPS.

It's worth noting the other finalists don't have experience running urban districts either. Ann Arbor is a college down with 16,000 students and many fewer buildings. Harrison District 2 has about 11,000 students in a sprawling city that doesn't face the same issues as Seattle.

Andre Spencer is also a product of the Broad Academy, which trains superintendents in corporate education reform policies that have destroyed districts like Oakland, CA (and nearly destroyed ours). He supports merit pay in schools, and perhaps supports other bad policies too. Those aren't "litmus tests," they're essential to the future of the district. I don't think anyone here wants charter schools and TFA and school closures and more teaching to the test. The kind of policies a superintendent would impose are perhaps the most important criteria we have to decide who should lead this district.

I think we need to hear from all three finalists for sure and make an informed decision. But this is a crucial turning point in our district. Juneau is well-regarded by a lot of people across the country and I think we should take a very close look at her. We're lucky she's applied.
Anonymous said…
Mr. Cruickshank, I can't find any "administrative experience in schools" in any of her background. She went straight from the classroom to state bureaucracy as I understand it. I'm not saying that she doesn't have a solid policy background. But again, this is NOT the same as district-level administrative experience.

As for charter schools, testing, etc. to which you refer, much of that is outside of the control of a local district superintendent. The state decides on "high stakes testing" and whether or not there will be charter schools. A local district superintendent can limit district-administered tests and has a say in whether a district might be a charter authorizer (though that's the board's decision). But again, her position on these things is to a large degree immaterial to her ability to run a school district, urban or otherwise.

Annie Bell
Actually, you are wrong, Annie, on a couple of counts ( at least here).

One, superintendents in WA state can have influence on if charters are in their district (see Spokane). Not complete control but some.

Two, Ms Juneau says, in the news article about testing, that districts are free to add to using the testing but, as head of OPI, she was not going to make test scores central to teacher evaluations.
Anonymous said…
My concern was similar to that of Annie Bell. I want to see more evidence that Juneau knows how to, or would know how to, run a large, complex district. Pronouncing state-level policies and initiatives are a lot different than actually implementing things at the district level. Would she advocate an approach in which principals were free to do as they please, as her website suggests? We need someone who can come in help figure out how things need to be, then make sure people do it. We need someone who can be both a doctor (to diagnose the problems and determine evidence-based treatment plans) and a sheriff (to make sure administrators implement the plans as planned).

Re: AP classes, Montana isn't exactly a hotbed of AP participation--or high scores--so while an expansion of access is good it's not all that informative as an indicator of high-quality, rigorous education. For example, in Montana's class of 2017, of the 20.5 percent of students who took an AP exam, only 13 percent scored a 3 or higher. Ouch. WA state "pass" rates were a little above average at 22.9%. In contrast, for Seattle Public Schools the pass rate was about 75%. Montana and SPS are worlds apart.

My concern is that she will be focused almost exclusively on the lowest performing students, and that the overall quality of education for those who are doing well will continue to slip via neglect and/or outright hostility. We need someone committed to the success and growth of ALL students. So far, two of the three candidates seem likely to focus on raising the floor only, or perhaps raising the ceiling for some (but not other) students. My initial impression is that Dr. Swift is the only one who might think high performing students also deserve equitable opportunities to learn.

And I'm not a big fan of Andre Spencer's pay-for-performance approach ( His "Teach Forward" plan seems to suggest that if you just give teachers a little extra money they'll do better because they'll care more. I guess they don't care enough now, and are motivated by money? Their idea of the winning strategy? "The program increases educator effectiveness by having teachers take on a role that encompasses the responsibilities of a resource provider, data coach, curriculum and instructional specialist, mentor, classroom supporter, school leader, change catalyst, and learner." No sweat. Ought to work great in SPS, where teacher can have students in the same classroom with a 10+ grade range in abilities, representing a wide range of races/ethnicities, poverty status, other backgrounds, etc.

There's still much to learn about all three...

first look
Anonymous said…
Melissa, about what am I wrong? Didn't I say this:

"A local district superintendent can limit district-administered tests and has a say in whether a district might be a charter authorizer (though that's the board's decision)."

Seems we actually said the same thing. Supes have local control over local tests and supes have a say about their districts authorizing charter schools.

Annie Bell
Ok but you seemed to be saying it very little and I contend it’s a lot more. How teachers are evaluated is a big deal.
Anonymous said…
My concerns are same as Annie Bell & First look. Although all three candidates do have various strengths, I personally think the candidate Jeanice Swift would be best matched in experience level needed for running a large complex urban district like Seattle.
Well, that none of them has any near experience in managing a large urban district (or org) makes it something of a guessing game as to who can truly handle it. I think their answers on Thursday will shed some light.
Anonymous said…
You are wrong.. what a charming way to address a concern of someone expressing their opinion.

Again if we don't spout the script we are what? Stupid or what is the appropriate "word" that is not name calling or whatever you do to shut people up from expressing a thought not mutually agreed upon? Oh wait I said shut up!!! OMG I will have to move out of Seattle now cause I don't talk nice and stuff!

- Seattle Freeze
Why These? said…
I am guessing that the compensation package is going to be close to $330K per year. For that kind of money, can we not attract a superintendent that has experience actually running a school district of 40,000 to 60,000 students?

SF, I didn’t say shut up or call someone stupid. And it appears that she and I mostly agree but differ on the degree. You are the one making more of it so just cool your jets.

Why these, you guess is probably right (in total compensation). I feel disappointment that twonof the three have none to one experience in being a superintendent and the one who has the longest experience (Spencer) has it in a small district,

More on my thoughts to come.
Eric B said…
My gut feeling is that most superintendents in districts of 40K-60K students are on the 5-year job hopping merry-go-round. I would rather have a superintendent who's looking to stay and has experience in a smaller district than one who's expecting to leave in a few years.
Anonymous said…
Eric B - I agree. Kind of like the superintendent we already have. I think that is a big reason why the teachers' union and so many of the people giving feedback about this process to the board wanted them to stop it and retain the current superintendent. Our recent history shows that, in spite of a lot of time and money being spent on these national searches, the grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence. I hope that's not the case since the board says they are locked into this process come hell or high water.

History would also suggest that we should start a vigil to find out which candidates are going to drop out once they start doing public meetings. And then we can hire the last candidate standing. - GW
The business of candidates dropping out - largely to save face - always disturbs me. I mean, who do they think they are fooling? Either they want the job or they may be fishing for better from their own district.

Walking away - to me - makes it look like you don’t believe in yourself.
Anonymous said…
The number of candidates who have dropped out of the running for SPS superintendent who did so after they met with parents in this district is not zero.

The vitriol on display among many parents in this district would turn off many candidates. The job itself is hard enough without the near constant attack mode shown by this blog and other forums.

Melissa, you can deny this reality (as you often do) and/or dismiss these concerns as attributable to their weak character or commitment, but it's a reality to be faced.

Liking 2 of the 3 said…

Although I'm sure Nyland is a decent person with his heart in the right place, I sincerely don't think he is up to the task of transitioning SPS from a large school district to a very large school district. SPS is not in great shape. No gaps have been closed, even basic steps to improve equity have not been taken, there is gross mismanagement of capacity, we have executive departments operating in silos with impunity, there is little to no transparency about decision-making, we have looming disasters in science curriculum and the 24-credit requirement—and recall we've had a lengthy teacher strike under Nyland's watch as well. The state's largest district didn't file on time or correctly in the school funding case before the Supreme Court and so were not accepted or considered. The pace of crises is literally breathtaking. We also have executive directors hired under previous superintendents whose values and agendas arguabdo not jibe either with Nyland's or with Seattle parents'. The first step to managing a large district is to get talented people hired in key positions who are on the same page, but Nyland is simply not a strong manager. The three new superintendent candidates seem to have much stronger managerial track records and stronger backbones, and even if they don't come from large districts, any of them would likely bring some needed house cleaning to SPS.
Seattle Citizen said…
Francis -
A) I don't see any above-normal levels of "vitriol" on this blog, and I've been reading it for a decade. Yes, people get angsty - we're discussing their CHILDREN.

B) Any superintendent anywhere better be able to handle parents of all stripes, and many parents are very, very....very active and vocal. If a person can't deal with that, well...
Anonymous said…
Seattle Citizen, given your role in the vitriol often furled at people with whom you disagree that I've read over the past decade as well, I'm not surprised at your skepticism regarding this blog.

Isn't "very, very...very active and vocal" just a euphemism for vitriol? But as you suggest, these potential candidates are just of weak character and/or commitment who "can't deal with that..."

Thank you so much for proving my point. Well done.

Eric B said…
Francis, SC just had a respectful disagreement with you, and you dismissed it as vitriol. Isn't that exactly the kind of thing you are complaining about others doing?

I'll agree that there's some nastiness here, but far less than you'll see in the comments section of the Seattle Times or most any other news outlet. Do you go there and wring your hands about the vitriol driving away a superintendent candidate?
Seattle Citizen said…
Francis, please provide an example of me hurling vitriol over the last decade. While sometimes I, like any normal human being, might get agitated, frustrated, or snappish, I believe I'm usually quite respectful. I can't recall reading comments from a "Francis" -since I don't know what identity you usually post under, I don't even know if you've been around a decade, or what sorts of comments YOU make. You could have just started reading this blog last week and maybe you're just a troll.

No matter, though; let's stick to the discussion at hand.

I wrote nothing about character or commitment - I merely stated my opinion that superintendents need to be able to put up with lots of angst and sometimes anger.

Rather than go after ME, why not respond to THAT?
Do you disagree? Or do you think no one should be angry in discussion with or about a superintendent?
Francis, you seem to think I am not running the blog on a reality-based basis. But I can tell you that one person's "vitriol" is another's concern. I do check talk that is crude, out of line, insulting, etc but to have an open forum, it is difficult to always check that. I depend on people to be civil and there are some who are not.

I had to smile at your belief that candidates would be turned off by the discussion here. I think most candidates would WANT to know what is out there. Because public education inspires passion, you will always have a lively discussion. In my profile of Dr. Swift, there is a quote about how she works hard despite the many clamoring voices from many communities. Any superintendent candidate worth their salt knows the work - the communities, the working with a board, etc. They generally have tough skins and are clear-eyed about the challenges.

I am equal parts cheerleader and critic. I defend this district over and over from "it's a mess" kind of talk. I write about the many good things happening in this district. I'm sorry you have missed all those posts but they exist. But maybe it helps try to undermine this blog by saying it's all "vitriol" and shouting voices.

It's not and if it were, I would not be running such a blog.
Anonymous said…
Don't worry, Francis. I doubt any school administrator who can't handle a little online criticism wouldn't bother to apply for a Supe position in a place like Seattle. They'll be fine. But if they weren't, we didn't want them anyway.

First look
Anonymous said…
Fine. If it's not the vitriol of the vocal parents on display in this blog and the district is not mess, please explain --- oh dear district veteran watchers, employees, and cheerleaders how this district --- IN A FABULOUS CITY --- can't seem to attract nor retain quality supes?

Why didn't any of the many superstar supes we have in this state --- and we have many --- apply for the position? Why did only supes from out-of-state, small-to-medium districts and ones without needed experience make it this far?

This district is renowned as a "mess" and a dumpster fire. And this blog adds fuel to that fire.

Many of you suggest that a good supe should be able to take it. But where are they? They're not applying here.

I want a good superintendent for this district. For its students. For its families. And many of you are complicit in creating an environment that makes that nearly impossible.

Just own it.

Eric B said…
Francis, it's a good thing we have you out there providing positive voices about our district. I'm sure glad you called us all out on our vitriol that we spew on a regular basis. Because you definitely raise the tone by calling the district a dumpster fire.

Most superintendents in medium to large school districts last for about 3-4 years before they go somewhere else. Seattle superintendents last for... about 3-4 years. So we are terribly average in this regard. Sorry to burst your bubble of assumed awfulness.
Anonymous said…
We are not going native, trust me.

Eric, thank you that on Francis’ statements which seem to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

You have no idea who did or didn’t apply. Many supes like where they are and are not leaving. Doesn’t mean they don’t like Seattle.

If you believe the district is “a dumpster fire” then this is not the blog for you. Most of us do not believe that and I certainly don’t.

I find your tone about the finalists to be unfair. I think they all sound like good supes.

I DO own everything I say and I actually sign my name to it. But I’m not allowing you to put words in my mouth.
Another View said…
"I want a good superintendent for this district. For its students. For its families. And many of you are complicit in creating an environment that makes that nearly impossibly"

It is essential that there are watchdogs on the federal, state and local levels. We are all better off with public scrutiny. This blog is no different than other news sources used to keep government and elected officials accountable to the public.
Anonymous said…
@ Francis, frankly, if an administrator who applies to run a large, urban, diverse district with its fair share of problems can't handle a little online criticism, they probably aren't cut out for the job anyway.

And really, do superintendent candidates spend a lot of time meeting with parents during the job interview process? You make it sound like once they get to know these awful Seattle parents they turn tail and run. Care to share which parents you think somehow have special access to these candidates, and/or special abilities to scare them away? I can only guess.

Speaking of special access, who were these community groups or other stakeholders who were allowed to attend the interviews and provide their feedback? Why are they entitled to greater influence, inequitable participation in the process? Whose opinions merit greater weight with the Board than those of the average citizen or parent?

first look
Seattle Citizen said…
While not addressing hiring, this study suggests there are innumerable factors influencing turnover. Pressure from constituents - "vitriol" - is mentioned but is only one of a myriad of factors.

Factors Determining Superintendent Turnover
Anonymous said…
@ Seattle Citizen, true. And it comes with the territory. Here's an excerpt from that study:

Fullan (1998) opined that due to the complex nature of executive leadership itself, there
will always be dissatisfaction among constituents with respect to the leader’s performance. If the
number of teachers were multiplied times the number of students, parents, and community
members, the possibilities for conflict and outside pressures are endless (Parker, 1996). Success
for the superintendent lies in gleaning wisdom from attacks and criticism, without being defeated
in the process (Harvey, 2003).

As noted, there's learning to be done by listening to those who disagree with you. Until SPS consistently demonstrates that it fully analyzes issues, then makes--then implements--good decisions, there's clearly a role for community input and insight. Until SPS consistently demonstrates strong community engagement and increased transparency, that community input and insight will often come at that last minute (when we finally become aware of the issue) and thus be more urgent, particularly if stakeholders disagree with the district's direction. If they want to reduce the supposed "vitriol," the clear solution is to better engage people in a more transparent process so that decisions are made with greater understanding (on all sides) and buy-in. Community input has been right much of the time, and there are many examples of where a little more listening on the part of SPS would have resulted in tremendous savings of time, money, headache, etc.

N. Gage
Anonymous said…
Melissa has been unequivocal about getting rid of Nyland.

Not just unequivocal but very very vocal about it.

Moral of the Story: Be careful what you wish (or actively politic) for.

Quotes this week from Melissa about the candidates:

"And so far, I'm pretty impressed."

And, when Francis attributed a (very reasonable) cause to the the low caliber of the SPS candidates:

"I find your tone about the finalists to be unfair. I think they all sound like good supes."

Own it

Anonymous said…
@ Own it, huh? Own what? Who says they are low caliber candidates? You seem to be trying to catch Melissa in a contradiction, but if so, you seem to be mis-reading what she wrote. She said "impressed," not "not impressed."

If she wants to get rid of Nyland, and if she's impressed with the quality of the candidates, the moral of your story doesn't make any sense.

say what?
Own It, I think "getting rid" of Superintendent Nyland is a bit much. I never thought he was the right person for the role and, as things played out, continued to believe it. So yes, I supported this superintendent search.

I didn't say there are not issues with the candidates; I will have a lengthy write-up after tonight's meeting. But Francis made them all sound terrible and that's just not the case.

Thank you, Say What; I, too, was confused. I did say "impressed" and I meant it.
Seattle Citizen said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
If I'd been trying to "catch" Melissa in a contradiction, I'd have pasted this quote:

MW: "I feel disappointment that two of the three have none to one experience in being a superintendent and the one who has the longest experience (Spencer) has it in a small district"

I agree with that quote, which I why I consider them to be low caliber finalists for a major urban school district. It's stunning how inexperienced ALL of them are for this job. Having one as an "outsider" and cutting edge would be fine.

Also, don't be disingenuous please, Melissa. You said far more (worse) about Nyland than the "good fit" type of thing. And you said it very frequently in the past few months, especially.

Own it
Anonymous said…
@ Own it, I don't know that many would agree with you that they are "low caliber candidates." Do any of them have the perfect qualifications and all the most relevant experience? No...but I wouldn't expect ANY candidate to. Additionally, as others have mentioned, it's typical for candidates to try to "move up" to larger districts. Did we really expect to find someone looking to make a lateral move to SPS, and would have even wanted that? Plus, the Board said they were looking for non-traditional candidates, and getting someone who had already done the same job in a similar district hardly fits the bill. Maybe someone coming from someplace a little smaller and/or different will be more optimistic, enthusiastic, inspirational, willing to take chances, etc.

Say what?
Anonymous said…
I tell you what is a mess...this comment thread.

And you know why it went downhill, Laughable? Because once again, people would prefer to attack me than make accurate, cogent comments about the topics at hand.

Maybe next time I wil just nip that in the bud early on.

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