Think of the children: Seattle selects gay tribal member to lead school system

(Image: Denise Juneau)

Denise Juneau, an education and Democratic leader from Montana, a lesbian, and a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes, has been selected as the next leader of the Seattle public school system.

Juneau’s choice came Wednesday night as the Seattle Schools board voted for the 51-year-old to take over the post filled by interim superintendent Larry Nyland since the summer of 2014.

“I am ready to work with the school board to help them achieve their goals of educational equity in outcomes, closing the opportunity gaps, robust engagement with community and parents, and providing a quality education for all students,” Juneau said in a statement following her selection.


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“During the interview process I learned that SPS is filled with committed and dedicated educators. The students I visited with are smart, creative and ready to lead. I look forward to building on the district’s successes, working with all partners to confront challenges and continue the positive progress already underway,” she said.

Juneau’s selection is a milestone in diversity for the board and comes amid ongoing issues over state funding and the coming next round of bargaining over a new teacher union contract. Juneau will also wrestle with problems unlike those she encountered in her years helping lead the Montana education system. 20% of Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary School students are experiencing homelessness, and inadequate staff capacity to address their needs, while nearly 3,500 students across the entire Seattle school district are homeless. Concerns about charter schools continues over worries that they siphon off vital funding for public schools and promote racial and economic segregation and discipline reform, racial equity in advanced learning programs, and ethnic studies are also hot button issues for the district.

“Selecting a superintendent is the most important responsibility a school board has,” board president Leslie Harris said. “Throughout this process, this board has sought feedback, listened closely and thoughtfully reflected on what characteristics we need in our next superintendent.

The board anticipates voting on April 25th to approve a final contract with Juneau. She would become the first Native American and first open lesbian to hold the post.

“Tonight, after much hard work and community engagement, we chose to nominate Denise Juneau of Montana to lead our schools and our community toward the pursuit of high quality education that serves to support each student in reaching their full potential,” Zachary DeWolf, school board director for the public schools district serving the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, said about the selection. The Chippewa Cree tribal member tagged his social media update “#NativePride #QueerPride.”

DeWolf will hold his first SPS District 5 community chat Monday night at 12th Ave’s The Riveter work space.

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