Capitol Hill Community Post | Seattle Public Schools State of the District Speech 2019, full text

From Seattle Public Schools

As prepared for delivery by Superintendent Denise Juneau ‏in her State of the District address at Seattle Central’s Broadway Performance Hall Tuesday, April 16th 2019.

Equity and Excellence

(Slide 3) Good evening.

Welcome to the State of Seattle School District – we are calling it “Equity and Excellence” – because that is our path forward. I’m Denise Juneau, proud Superintendent and number one fan of our 53,000 students.

Thank you, Angelina and Myhahn for the great introduction.  I guess my reputation of enjoying a good joke has spread across the city.

Also, thank you to Leschi’s student Race and Equity team and Rising Sons representatives for centering tonight’s conversation on the importance of student voice.

And thank you, President Edwards-Lange for welcoming us into your house. And for your personal commitment to Seattle Public Schools students and their families. Did you know that 3 out of 4 Seattle graduates enroll right away into a 2 or 4-year college? I know we are both excited about the Seattle Promise and the great opportunities that will arise as a result of our partnership with the City – we now have the potential to make a college education and a career certification a reality for every prepared Seattle Public Schools graduate.

Thank you also to the Alliance for Education for being a sponsor of this event. I look forward to doing great things with you for our students across the district. I also want to thank City Year for helping us out here tonight. How awesome are they at making sure we all felt welcome?

And thanks to all of YOU for being here – for showing up tonight and demonstrating once again, Seattle’s unwavering commitment to public education.

When I was a young girl growing up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, I would never have dreamed my path would lead to Seattle Public Schools. My family has long roots in public education and public service. My grandmother was a school cook for 28 years, my grandfather was a truancy officer, bus driver, and police officer. My dad was a school counselor, administrator, superintendent, and school board member. My mom opened our community’s first alternative school, created our community’s first tribal college, and served in the state legislature.

It’s from their work and advocacy that I learned my values of looking out for others, to work toward bending the arc of history toward justice, and to make sure that the plans we lay support the next seven generations. Seattle’s strong progressive values and commitment to racial equity led me here – to my new home.

Oki. Niksukuwask. Neetonakoo, Ootskwi Siksikiaki. In the Blackfeet language, that means – Hello my friends and relatives, my name is Blue Cloud Woman.

Seattle Public Schools has students and families that speak over 100 heritage languages. That is something to be celebrated. However, you just heard the extent of Blackfeet language that I know. I did not have the opportunity to learn it from my family, because they didn’t know it either. They didn’t know it because the history of education for Native Americans is one of trauma and oppression. When this country was being populated because of the eastern invasion, Native Americans were seen as a burden to be overcome – not included.

Young children were torn from their families and sent to boarding schools far away from their home. These boarding schools cut their hair, stamped out their language, forced them to speak English, assimilated them to a school not of their making, and focused on “killing the Indian and saving the man.”

Growing up in a community dealing with the outcomes of significant historical trauma, the result of educational oppression, it became my life’s calling to undo the legacies of racism in our education system and to lay the groundwork for future generations to define their own life outcomes and help them achieve their dreams. It’s these values that drew me to Seattle and why I’m happy to be leading this district –- because all of you believe that is the right work to do too.

So, I’m pleased to be here with all of you this evening to celebrate our good work that is steeped in equity. To lay out the hard work currently going on in partnership with over 300 organizations. To boldly confront our challenges and our shortcomings and to lay out our vision – to unapologetically work toward racial equity in Seattle Public Schools. And to call on all of us to work together to make Seattle Public Schools successful.

I have also learned that Seattle is a collection of unique neighborhoods, each with its own flavor. Each of these neighborhoods, with their schools, weave the tapestry of our city, each bringing their own thread that braids together to create the rich texture and complexity of our school system.

Somehow, it all works together to produce students that are very thoughtful and creative. They are not the leaders of tomorrow – they are leaders today.  You have seen a sample of our students on stage this evening. They are advocating for change- and we are listening.

Students are taking charge of their own learning and growth. I recently met a 3rd grade student at Beacon Hill Elementary. This student struggled with attendance and was working really hard to get to school. The week I visited, he was on-time and ready to learn all week. It was a HUGE step for him – and one he was really proud of.

(SLIDE 4) I recently met Stephen at Leschi. He informed me that adults need to “listen more and talk less.” Stephen is wiser than his years. I plan to follow Stephen’s leadership advice as we implement our new strategic plan.  And you heard from some other powerful Leschi Elementary students earlier. They helped me realize that we have a lot of work to do – we need to build a system where adults develop deep relationships with young people, and help our youngest learners navigate a system and society that isn’t always fair, kind, or supportive. A system that was not built to make sure ALL students thrive – a system that we need to push back against to make it flex, transform, and work for every student.  

(SLIDE 5) And these strong girls – showing off their power pose after sharing with me a poem, “Hey Black Child”. These students are our future – they are fierce, focused, and brilliant.

It’s because of my experience with these students and so many others that I can tell you that the state of the Seattle Public School District is optimistic and poised for great things.

I have visited 78 schools and will visit all of them by the end of the year. Our teachers, school leaders, and staff are dream makers. Our educators (and I use that term to include everyone who works in the district), show up every day to proudly do their jobs – because they know that their work leads to student success – from the custodial engineer, to the nutrition service worker, to teachers, to school leaders, to central administration. All of us help create the right circumstances for student learning.  

And our generous partners work alongside us to provide academic supports, mentorship, internships, and help to meet students’ basic needs like food, school supplies, and housing. All of us help young people achieve their dreams.

This constellation of supports has created a system we should all be proud of – when we look at nearly EVERY measure of a successful school system, Seattle Public Schools outperforms the state and many of our national peers too. I think people forget that we have high academic scores and high graduation rates. It’s important to recognize that our district scores 13 points higher in math and 10 points higher in English Language Arts than the rest of the state. Our graduation rate has increased by 11% over the last 5 years with students of color making the most notable gains.

And while we celebrate success for many of our students, we are also boldly confronting our challenges. We have a long way to go before we can truly celebrate these great educational outcomes for EVERY student. Our gaps are still way too large and our system still has to change a lot to meet the needs of each student.

(Slide 6) This is why our new strategic plan is laser-focused on supporting students of color furthest from educational justice. Because we are such a strong district, we can prioritize this next phase of work and push ourselves to BE better, and to DO better. And, I’m in it for the long haul. I am here with you to make sure we get this done.

Last month, our Board of Directors unanimously voted to approve the new Strategic Plan. I want to thank them for their courage in setting the vision for the District. President Leslie Harris, Vice-President Rick Burke, Member At-Large Zachary DeWolf, Betty Patu, Jill Geary, Scott Pinkham, and Eden Mack – will you please stand so we can publicly thank you for all that you do for Seattle students and families. (Have board stand)

I also want to thank my senior leadership team for being brave and for all they are going to do to make sure this strategic plan is successful. Please stand.

Our new strategic plan reflects what I heard from students, families, staff and the broader community during my Listen and Learn tour. And it reflects our shared commitment to racial equity and justice. Unlike prior plans, this one embodies the word “strategic.” While our ongoing work to provide excellence to all of our students will continue, this plan has clarity about what we’re are going to accomplish for underserved students and families. 

We are committed to providing high quality learning and instruction, especially for students of color, those furthest from educational justice. This means that we will need to target supports and change our practice. Early literacy will be one of our key initiatives – an initiative in which the entire community can engage. From public libraries, to preschools, to our educators, and families at home – we will be focused on making sure students are reading by 3rd grade. I keep a data sheet on my desk that shows 36% of African American 3rd grade students are proficient in reading. 36%. . . that means 64% are not. And we have similar statistics for other students of color and students living in poverty. That is unacceptable. Knowing how to read well changes life outcomes for students and sets them on a path to success. We will no longer sit by and let our school system fail another generation of children.

I also had conversations with hundreds of young people of color – all of them shared that learning from someone who looks like them, at some point in their educational career, is really important. Access to educators that recognize their gifts, cultural strengths, and lived experience is critical. Building a culturally responsive work force is one of our strategic priorities. A priority that the student advisory board is already tackling, and partners are helping us address.

A desire for consistency and predictability in district operations also came up in every space I visited. This includes making sure students get delivered to school in a timely manner, attend a school that is ready to go on the first day, and are served nutritious, delicious meals. These supports play a key role in student success and they need to be a seamless experience, so we can have a laser-like focus on teaching and learning.

And we can’t disrupt systems of oppression and make sure public education prepares EVERY student for success without authentically engaging with our community – especially those students and families that have been neglected and disregarded and shut out. We will work to include communities of color in our decision making because they know what works – they know how to change systems that aren’t working for their children and to build conditions for success. We will take our cues from those who know best.

This work is not about changing our students. Our students come to us with unique stories and strengths. There are no broken students. There are only broken systems. We need to evolve as a system into what our students need. It is our job to transform and get students to where they want to go. We need to be dream makers for every student – through equity AND excellence.

And I know this is possible. The evidence is already in our classrooms, our community spaces, and demonstrated every day in so many ways. I look forward to leading this district as we implement our new strategic plan. There is so much work to be done and we can’t do it alone. That’s why we need our staff, our board, our families and students, our board of directors, the Alliance for Education, Seattle Colleges, the City, and all of our partners to make this a reality.

I hope you join us to help us create a place where every student reads by 3rd grade – a place where every teacher can relate to every student and where students see educators who look like them – a place where our operational systems are integrated into teaching and learning – and a place where every community feels it is heard. That’s my ask of you. Join us as we make Seattle Public Schools a national leader in equity and excellence.


(Slide 7) Tonight, we are taking a bit of time to celebrate and acknowledge individuals, organizations, and partners who are helping students reach their dreams and are leading the way. The stories you are about to learn should give us all hope that the goals outlined in the new strategic plan are achievable, if we center our work on students, coordinate our efforts, and all commit to this most important work.

(SCREEN WILL GO TO CONSISTENT SPS LOGO; Braxton will cue up videos)


When I arrived in July 2018, I made a commitment to “build a longer table” and to deeply engage families, partners, and those furthest away from educational justice in the strategic work of Seattle Public Schools. Tonight, I want to thank the many, many individuals, partners, and community organizations that pulled up a chair, graciously set the table, and welcomed me into their community spaces to learn about the challenges, hopes, and dreams of our students and families. It was a gift that has helped set the district’s course for the next 5 years.  



VIDEO WILL PLAY (at end of each video Erin has included a transition SPS slide)

Please help me recognize EVERYONE that either hosted a Listen and Learn session, sat on the Strategic Plan Steering Committee, or hosted a strategic plan feedback session. This work is yours – thank you for your commitment to our students and community. Please stand to be recognized.


Representation matters. Having a culturally responsive workforce, a workforce that reflects the strengths and lived experiences of our diverse students was the number one request from young people across the city. We can’t do this work alone. The Seattle Teacher Residency Program is an innovative partnership with the Seattle Education Association, the Alliance for Education, and the University of Washington. It has helped us to create a pipeline of incredible teachers for Seattle Public Schools and helps us to recruit and retain educators of color.




Seattle Teacher Residency partners, thank you for your unwavering commitment to Seattle Public Schools, our students, and our greater community. The work you do with us today lays the ground work for the next seven generations. Please stand to be recognized.


Tonight, we celebrate two individuals that make schools run seamlessly, and while this is really important – the most remarkable thing about them both is how student success and relationships center their work.


My first job in high school was working alongside my grandmother, the school cook, in her kitchen during lunchtime. She took great pride in serving nutritious, delicious food for breakfast and lunch. But she was most proud of building strong relationships with students, and advocating for them was her most important contribution. “Mr. Marcus,” is the cafeteria manager at Hawthorne Elementary.  He is the “life of the cafeteria”. His commitment to building relationships, making sure students are ready for learning, and being that one adult a student can come to – with any little issue, reflects the values of Seattle Public Schools. My grandmother, Margie Juneau would be proud.

Bounma will be celebrating 19 years with Seattle Public Schools this September. His work between his office at the John Stanford Center and providing custodial assistance to all 102 schools in the district is more than a job. You heard that correctly – he provides assistance to all 102 schools. He does whatever it takes to make sure our schools all across the city, day or night, are safe, welcoming, and ready for student learning.

Let’s hear more about their contributions to Seattle Public Schools.  (TURN TOWARD THE SCREEN)


Thank you, Mr. Marcus and Bounma (Boo-n-ma) Thank you for doing the work that matters to so many of our students. Please stand to be recognized.


Mercer Internal Middle School  

Finally, Asa Mercer International Middle School reflects the very best of Seattle. Equity, inclusion, and collaboration center everything taking place in the school. Everyone, from the front office staff to partners in the school, share an unwavering belief in student potential – that’s the “Mercer mindset.” And their data demonstrates this belief. Asa Mercer has the highest student outcomes for African American males in Seattle Public Schools. There isn’t a secret formula – but THERE IS strong school leadership, high quality teaching and collaboration, adults’ positive belief in students, and students’ belief in themselves – all approaches that have proven to be successful. And the school has been generously supported by partners like the Nesholms, City Year, and so many others.

I want to thank Principal Carter, who taught at Mercer for 6 years and has led the school for 7 for his tremendous leadership. As he moves on to another leadership opportunity in another district, I know he will carry with him lessons learned in Seattle, and his wisdom will help even more students.


Thank you, Principal Carter, and the entire staff at Asa Mercer International Middle School for your leadership. Please stand so we can all recognize your work on behalf of students.

(Slide 8) CLOSURE

Thank you again to all of our staff, partners, and individuals for showing us the way. Equity AND Excellence IS possible. Making sure that every student in Seattle graduates ready to make their dreams a reality IS attainable.

I look to many of you in this room to help us – it IS the most important work of our lifetimes. Eliminating academic disparities is no small task. We are at a point in our history – as a community, and as a nation that we can’t just be world class – we have to be world leading. This means EVERY student needs to find success. I believe we can do it.

Together, we CAN provide each and every student the education and future they deserve. From the bus stop to the board room, it is up to all of us to make sure every young person gets a shot at becoming well educated and realizes their hopes and dreams. Collectively, I KNOW we have the knowledge, the resources, and the ability to bring about the changes we want to see.  And I know the school board and I look forward to doing this work with you.

Please welcome your board president, Leslie Harris to help close out this evening. And thanks again to all of you for coming out tonight.

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