Seattle’s next school chief will inherit a problem: Seattle has one of the worst opportunity gaps in the nation, between students of color and white students.
The gap is acute. For example: Across the city, 32 percent of black students passed the fourth grade English test. By contrast, 80 percent of white students passed.
The top job at Seattle Public Schools will open up in June, when Superintendent Larry Nyland's contract ends. The school board is preparing to hire a new superintendent by the end of April.
Labor representatives, however, say the board needs to slow down and take time to involve people of color in the search process.
Seattle teachers' union, Seattle Education Association, says the school board should be reaching out directly to communities of color to inform their search for a superintendent. Union President Phyllis Campano says, however, the board has held few public meetings and has not authentically engaged families of color.
Campano: "Part of educating kids of color is engaging communities [so that] their families feel like they're part of the schools. And excluding their voice when you're hiring the top position in the school district is just infuriating, like how do you even justify that when our biggest issue in Seattle Public Schools is the opportunity gap?"
She wants the school board to pause hiring for now.
Campano: "If we truly wanted to reach out to our communities, why not have community meetings in each region of the district, in an evening time with child care, that particularly our families of color could attend?"
The school board plans to stay on schedule, though. Board President Leslie Harris says they need to respect the applicants' time.
Harris: "I'd always like to see more community involvement, I come from a background of community activism. However, when one applies to be a superintendent, in many ways they're putting their current career on the line.”
She says the board did ask families for input through a survey, and that they'll be able to hear from the three finalists on March 29. The board is sifting through about 60 applications now; their names are being kept confidential.
Harris says superintendent is a big job and they want someone up to the task.
Harris: "Closing the opportunity gap is critical on our list. Additionally we're in the middle of a capacity crisis, our schools are full, we're in the middle of a funding crisis."
Harris says if the school board does not find a candidate they deem fit for the role, they could do the search over.
The school superintendent in Seattle oversees 53,000 students at about 100 schools.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story compared a different group of black and white students. We chose to change that comparison to include larger sample sizes.