Friday, June 28, 2019

Superintendent Denise Juneau - It's Been a Year, What Do You Think?

It has been nearly a year since Denise Juneau became the Seattle Schools' superintendent.  In that year she has visited all the schools, taking selfies at all of them. That is one heavy lift to get done.   I'd certainly give her an "A" for effort.

She has written a reflection about her first year, dated June 21st.  Read it and tell me what's missing.

Right, the School Board.  Not one mention.  She mentions SEA and her Student Advisory Board.  But not the School Board.  I think that was deliberate and portends for her work and collaboration with them.

I like Denise Juneau.  She got a relaxed, open air about her that invites people in.  Is that a public persona?  I don't know.

But in terms of her work output, I see a different person.  There seem to be decisions being made where:
 1) the Board is not being given all the facts and,
2) the Superintendent seems impatient with the Board's oversight.

Some of that just may be a difference in how Juneau saw school boards in Montana.  When the superintendent search happened, it was pointed out that Juneau had never been a superintendent before and so, never work directly and in conjunction with one school board.

She does remind me a bit of former superintendent Joseph Olchefske in one way.  When the financial scandal occurred during his tenure, the district contracted with a local consultant, Moss Adams, to review the entire district, department by department and including the superintendent.  What stood out to me when they spoke of the Superintendent?

The Superintendent likes good news.

I perceive Juneau to be somewhat the same especially in how she presents herself to the public.  Her tweets are unfailing sunny, she loves corny jokes (which is great especially with kids), she likes to acknowledge the work of staff, teachers and administrators.  Supporting staff and being positive about the district, its students and the work being done is important.

On a personal level, we as parents, try to give our child a safe and sound childhood but it is important to not always protect them from the realities of life. 

By the same measure, it's also important for the Superintendent not to pretend to the public that all is well.

The district has put equity front and center in their work but has never publicly released a definition.  There is one on the column behind the speaker's podium in the auditorium at JSCEE but I'm not sure if that's it.  I did see these two posted within the second floor in JSCEE.

 Lastly, the Superintendent and the Board have signed off on the Strategic Plan.  I don't know that I like a narrow approach with the idea being that positive outcomes will filter down to other students of color but the district certainly should be driving its efforts to help students who are the most disadvantaged.

However, I continue to be deeply troubled by a lack of both written and verbal assurances to parents for the education of each and every one of the 53,000 students in Seattle Public Schools.  There's line in the Strategic Plan about this but it's tepid to say the least.  This didn't used to be a problem in the past but I believe this, too, is deliberate.

What are the issues?

Continued underfunding of schools.  Not her fault but, as Director Eden Mack pointed out recently, it's hard to reconcile an announced $40M shortfall when the next district budget will spend more than $90M more than this year. 

Principals.  That thread opened up issues in all corners of this district.

Sped issues.  More and more Special Education is being handled off-site of the district at a huge cost.  Is that really the best way forward?  (Note, she does say this in her reflection: I personally commit to advocating in Olympia, specifically for special education support.)

Building issues such as the problems between Robert Eagle Staff Middle School and Licton Springs K-8.

Advanced Learning.  Enough said.

Enrollment policies/boundaries/waitlists.  This is literally killing this district that they cannot forecast well AND use the slimmest of evidence to say a school is losing students and therefore will lose funding.  I know a school where they forecasted six fewer students and they lost a teacher.

Fulfilling the 24-credit requirement for graduation for high school students AND clearly communicating to students AND parents how that will work.

PTA and other individual grant funding.  The district needs to do an assessment of what effects are actually there when it comes to PTO/PTA and booster clubs.

Your thoughts/insights?


Anonymous said...

Someday I would like to see both the School Board and the Superintendent mention something about developing and using institutional memory. Both the board and the district staff should be recording information about what they do, in a way that is clear and easily searchable, and referring to that information on an ongoing basis in an attempt to make new mistakes rather than making the same old mistakes repeatedly.

This applies to *everything* the board and staff do. Examples of huge difficulties caused by lack of institutional memory are particularly obvious in student assignment, transportation, and advanced learning.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Amen, Irene.

Good example is this Community Workforce Agreement. The last time something like this was used,there was a major scandal involving one Silas Potter. What are the lessons learned from that experience?

Anonymous said...

I just finished my tenth year in the district. I think Juneau is the 4th or 5th superintendent we've had in that time? I can't think of a single thing any of them have done that makes me care who the super is. At best they've all been ineffective, at worst they make our jobs harder for no reason.

NW Teacher

Anonymous said...


I believe you have hit the nail on the proverbial head. The lack of institutional memory in this district is mind-boggling. My child is 24. We spent 8 years in SPS (including preschool via the Montessori program at Graham Hill—mi), and the problems created by the constant churn of supers, principals, and policies caused a great school to deteriorate. It was the main reason we opted to go private for middle and high school. As older parents with just one child who had generous grandparents, that option was open to us. Right now, I can't begrudge anyone who opts for a charter school, homeschooling, another district, or private. SPS just doesn't sound like they are willing to serve EVERY child in their system anymore.


SNAFU said...

Agree with all of the above.

Now feeling: why bother?


Anonymous said...

The Board needs to expect way more of a Superintendent, and that needs to be reflected in the Superintendent's evaluation. The evaluation criteria are usually absurdly minimal for someone who needs to run a complex district with so many departments. The current matrix has, I think, only 3 domains: an entry plan to visit and get feedback (i.e., a listening tour); completion of the strategic plan (done via consultant, and pretty minimal); and some minimal Board/Supt collaboration. Nothing about reigning in spending and getting control of the budget. Nothing about getting a handle on SPED. Nothing about getting a handle on the 24-credit can that keeps getting kicked down the road. Nothing about reviewing the overall org chart and getting rid of ineffective (not to mention harmful) staff. Nothing about dealing capacity issues. And so on.

For the next set of evaluation criteria, why not look at every department and figure out what the priorities are, then decide which of them are really important and need to be done in the next year--then put the Supt on the hook for making sure his/her/their staff get those things done? If the Supt is the only person accountable to the Board, make the Supt accountable for what their staff do. We need to expect more of our leaders.


Anonymous said...

Juneau is *very* top-down and appears to have literally no interest at all in engaging with parents or the public at large. Look at her social media accounts, for example - it's all about praising other SPS staff, especially principals. Rarely, if ever, does she talk about connecting with the wider community. She's isolating herself and for someone coming in from outside, that's not a wise move. And her barely-concealed contempt for the school board doesn't help matters.

At some point this will build up into some kind of major fight or scandal that costs her the job of superintendent, and certainly cost her any future ambitions.

Oh, and she also *loves* large corporations. That is going to be a serious problem very, very soon.


UNEA said...

It was an enormous mistake for Juneau to tangle with UNEA.

Anonymous said...

@HF Good suggestions for things to put into the superintendent's evaluation. One essential item that we apparently need is: does the superintendent ensure that staff follow federal and state law, as well as the policies enacted by the school board? If the superintendent allows flagrant disdain for laws and policies then she is not doing her job.


Anonymous said...

UNEA is a insignificant group in the big picture. The very small group natives in SPS could use some of the casino revenues to fund the program outside of SPS. Why can't this happen. The UNEA knows the answer. So, now here comes Pinkham a day late and a dollar short.

He and Burke need to explain their inability to be pro-active around issues at Licton Springs. I'm suspicious of Harris because of her cockiness and her self-righteous attitude she projects from the dais. I believe she knew in advance of SPS's plans to kick out the UNEA. She's always been very protective of her pet project but very seldom goes out on a limb for others.

It's a BIG NO


Billy Billion said...

Geary appeared to take another swipe at PTA funding. She didn't offer any solutions. PTA funding represents a miniscule percentage of the district's budget. I would prefer she stay focus on the district's consistent inconsistent BAR numbers. Those numbers are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Anonymous said...

Your post hits the nail on the head for me and you made so many good points in which I agree. Thank you for a fantastic analysis. Also about strategic plans, I am no expert and have heard they should be laser in focus. However, since we have a district with 53,000 diverse students most of whom are not focused on in this plan, it should not be that narrow. It is far far too exclusionary.

A Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Casino revenues? C'mon.

"I believe she knew in advance of SPS's plans to kick out the UNEA. She's always been very protective of her pet project but very seldom goes out on a limb for others."

And you base that first statement on? As well, what is her "pet project?"

Anonymous said...

Well I agree about the flimsy evaluation criteria. Really, why have a Board if the Board has no spine. I also wonder if Juneau will stay. She is not making an effort with parent communities, that is coming through very loud and clear.

MMS parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

MMS Parent, it feels like Juneau is setting up for something else (like if a Dem wins the White House, she'd be in the Department of Education.)

Anonymous said...


I don't think there is any question, Juneau is not settling in. She sees Seattle as a placeholder until the next Dems administration. She does not seek feedback from parent communities except highly selectively and her failure to manage and lead us all through the politics and crises of Licton Springs is absolutely unforgivable. We could have screwed that up all by ourselves, without her. What is her added value? I feel she has not demonstrated leadership in this first year. Of course, she has the Board carrying water for her and the evaluation criteria show how unbelievably cowed or confused these Board members feel, holding somebody who might jump into national politics to account. It's disgusting. The way I experience this new Superintendent is that here is a person who is motivated by what will resonate with whoever is doing the hiring in a new Dems administration. That leaves a lot of kids out in SPS.


Anonymous said...

O c’mon now. If they overestimate school enrollment, the crying never ceases when they have to remove teachers and reorganize schools in October. People write their congressmen. That has happened nearly every year. So, they are now fixing that problem by cutting first which is preferable. It’s better to add a teacher later, than subtract one. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.


Anonymous said...

As a staff member at Franklin I will say that we had a principal, Dr. Wiley, who was here for 16 years...she should’ve been fired over 12 years ago. After all this time she was finally removed in the middle of the school year and was forced to resign at the end of this school year. I will give the superintendent a lot of props for this... none of the other superintendents were able to accomplish this.

Franklin staff

Anonymous said...

"It’s better to add a teacher later, than subtract one. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."

So my understanding is that the districts surrounding Seattle don't need to operate this way. They also are not cutting a teacher or two either, 15 teachers were estimated at Roosevelt for example and entire programs are being affected as well.

Another Reader

Anonymous said...

It was clear that Juneau has possibilities bigger than Seattle before she got hired. She had already been rumored to have been on Hillary's short list.

She is confident, calm and clearly in charge. She has made some important personnel changes, like getting rid of Tolley and Wiley.

She is honoring due process, building staff trust, and has the board on her side.

For a principal walking into such a mess as SPS, she is doing a great job. Her national stature gives her needed authority. Didn't she early on dismiss this blog as "noise"? And doesn't Melissa keep threatening to now change this blog into something more than SPS?

Clock Watcher

Melissa Westbrook said...

Clock Watcher, she is "confident, calm and clearly in charge." That's fine. But she does not seem to be listening to communities and that's troubling.

Got rid of Tolley? Meh, he was on his way out and, by the way, some in the Black community have been quite upfront over their anger/disappointment that some key senior leadership who are black are now gone.

Got rid of Wiley? Great but we now have Washington Middle School and Bailey Gatzert in disarray because of less-than-effective principals.

Her slash and burn budgeting for schools may play out quite badly come fall.

Honoring due process? Tell that to UNEA. They pointed out at the last Board meeting that the policy on partnerships wasn't being following.

I hope the Board is on her side; that should be the norm. However, they pushed back mightily on what was a bizarre science curriculum adoption (and she allowed it to play out as such) and extracted a review in the middle of the contract time.

No, she didn't dismiss the blog as "noise" early on? That came with the Science adoption. Actually, she and I were on good terms from the start.

I'm not "threatening" to change the blog; I've already started.

Anonymous said...

A larger than SPS blog will be boring. People read and comment on news about SPS.


Melissa Westbrook said...

So Reader, don't read it. There are larger issues than SPS and yes, charter schools, new ones coming in with an influx of money, can and probably will threaten SPS. So-called personalized learning will be a factor in SPS classrooms as will student data privacy.

And,once there is a Dem in the White House, then Juneau will probably go off to the other Washington and SPS will need a new super. That could come in - what? - Feb. 2021.

By all means, thought, if what you want is SPS news, start your own blog. But the other "public education" blogs in this town have never covered SPS like I have. I hope someone will rise up to do this because more parents are in the know because of my work.

suep. said...

I was optimistic about Supt Juneau when she was hired, and the Board put a lot of effort into finding and selecting her. But I have a number of concerns now.

Yes, Tolley is gone, and Wiley has been removed, along with some other staffers, which are good changes. But a number of issues have arisen this past year on Superintendent Juneau’s watch that are very troubling: Washington Middle School has been allowed to be decimated by a clearly dysfunctional principal, despite parent concerns from the beginning of the school year; Bailey Gatzert is in crisis as well; the shady science adoption debacle will be a costly legacy in lost student learning, policy and legal violations and wasted district resources for years to come; the Strategic Plan is one of the most narrow in recent memory and did not take into consideration broad community input; an unqualified staffer was selected to replace Stephen Martin in advanced learning with no apparent experience in gifted ed, despite community requests for an appropriately qualified hire; a lead staffer for Ethnic Studies has been behaving unprofessionally and making defamatory remarks about parents and community members on social media; there's the abrupt cancellation of the UNEA Clear Sky Native youth program at Licton Springs; district enrollment projections have not been clearly explained to the community or the Board, nor have the resulting draconian staffing cuts to schools. This is just a partial list.

Overall, Supt Juneau does not appear very interested in listening to community concerns. She also does not appear interested in listening to the Board. That is a serious problem.


suep. said...

In fact, the current Superintendent-Board dynamic is extremely troubling -- it does not seem healthy. I've been repeatedly shocked by the clear lack of respect Supt Juneau publicly demonstrates towards the Board.

This disrespect was on vivid display at the June Board meeting where the Board voted on the science curriculum. Juneau insulted Dir Burke and goaded Dir Mack, and interjected without asking to be called upon by the meeting chair (Board President Harris). Perhaps this is a lesser known fact, but the Superintendent serves as the Board’s secretary during legislative meetings; s/he is not chair of the meeting. That is the Board President's role.

Dir Burke went through the trouble of presenting a brief PowerPoint correctly highlighting the exigencies of Policy 2020 (waivers) which requires data to prove efficacy of waiver materials (something MaryMargaret Welch and staff failed and refused to do for AmplifyScience). Rather than respect his perspective, Juneau proceeded to belittle Burke and his work. She flippantly asked if his theory of action was the district’s or just his own. I think she may have even said something as dismissive as 'Rick’s theory.' She then evoked the Strategic Plan—which appears to have become a bludgeon that she and staff will use to push any agenda they want, allegedly in the name of “equity.”

Juneau completely ignored the fact that Burke was correctly and lawfully invoking policy, which the Board -- and Superintendent -- by law must follow. It was clear that her main mission was to kill any effort by any directors to oppose staff's adoption recommendations. She had no interest in hearing and respecting their analysis, voices or their obligation to represent the interests of their constituents and follow policy and law.

Juneau basically badgered Dir Mack into providing what Juneau called "my fourth vote" in favor of AmplifyScience. It was a strange use of a possessive pronoun. The votes do not belong to the Superintendent. Curriculum adoptions are the Board’s votes to cast.

At another point in the meeting, the head of technology, John Krull suddenly took to the podium, uninvited, and proceeded to read off a document that had not been referenced or requested. It was a strange moment. It was already a long night, and when Pres. Harris rightfully asked him to finish, he pushed back and said there were more pages. Then a voice piped up egging him on, urging “Yes, one more (page)!” directly defying Pres Harris. It was Juneau, totally out of line. It was thinly disguised as humor but came across as overbearing.

Supt. Juneau does not seem to understand the role of the district superintendent and the role of the Board. She is not the CEO of the state dept of ed anymore. She is the employee of the Board. She needs to work with and respect the directors -- 7 individuals who represent the public. Yes, that is a difficult position, but that is what she signed up for. The Board is at the top of the district org chart.

Above all, Supt Juneau needs to understand that the Board represents the public. Directors are elected by the community to serve their interests. So if the superintendent disrespects or disregards the Board, s/he is disrespecting and disregarding the public. The last SPS superintendent who behaved this way was fired.

The dilemma for the Board is, if they allow their employee to bully them into abrogating their duties to follow policy and law, they will be held accountable for it, either by the state auditor (as in 2010 and possibly again later this year) or the voters, but the Superintendent will only be held accountable if the Board holds her accountable.

The Superintendent evaluation is the Board's main tool to do so. Will they use it? Apparently Juneau automatically gets a $15,000 bonus for having created and the Board passing a Strategic Plan. Will the Board also give her a raise? Will they extend her contract?

Neither are mandated.

Anonymous said...

"...an unqualified staffer was selected to replace Stephen Martin in advanced learning with no apparent experience in gifted ed, despite community requests for an appropriately qualified hire ..."

The individual who was given this job attended a meeting of parents of students with twice exceptionalities. You could just see the whole room deflate when, in response to a question about what models she considers to be best for 2e students, she said she was making phone calls to other districts to see what they are doing. Learning on the job works sometimes.....but a leadership position should be filled by somebody who has shown leadership in the field. How and why did this happen? JSCEE just gets weirder all the time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post and conversation. One of my concerns is lack of transparency and citizen input. This is a cultural problem not just at SPS but also throughout City & County government. They all appear to think we are so progressive there's no need to change, where in fact our schools and behavioral health systems are antiquated and stuck 30 years in the past.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that there is not more commentary on this thread. Given the Amplify fiasco, if nothing else. Don't readers care anymore what the Superintendent does or doesn't do? Our minds were collectively dulled after Nyland maybe? I am finding Ms. Juneau to be gapingly indifferent to whether she is perceived to be a leader.