Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau
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Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Gil Aegerter

Denise Juneau, Seattle’s new schools chief, reflects on her first year

Today is the last day of classes for Seattle Public Schools, and the end of the first school year for Superintendent Denise Juneau.

KUOW spoke with Juneau about what she’s proud of from her first year on the job — and her goals for next school year.

"A lot got accomplished in this first year.

"I have visited all 102 schools, so I got to be around the community, and see the ins and outs of what's happening in our district, and just let people know there is there are a lot of good things happening in Seattle Public Schools. That we are actually a national leader on many issues, including our race and equity work: The work that we're doing with our union, and all the things that are moving forward.

"Racial Equity Teams that are being present right in school, with parents and teachers working together on racial equity, having really hard conversations about what that looks like in their school — I think those are all really positive things."

Juneau says a major accomplishment this year was the district’s strategic plan, which lays out priorities for the next five years.

The strategic plan promises a focus “on students of color who are furthest from educational justice, especially African-American males." It also says "an intentional focus on African-American males will ultimately benefit every student.”

"I have a piece of data on my desk that shows 32 percent of African-Americans in our system are proficient on the reading test in third grade. That's unacceptable.

"This strategic plan, you know, it doesn't shift our huge priorities, but it puts a focus on communities that we can actually target in, have authentic conversations, and then start thinking about how do we change our systems to really move the needle?

"Because for a long time we've talked a lot about opportunity gaps. We've talked a lot about these disparities. But until we actually shift resources, shift people, it's going to really be hard to dig in and get things so that they're improving.”

Juneau says next school year will be all about one of the elements of the strategic plan: early literacy.

The goal is all kids reading at grade level by third grade, which has shown to be a strong predictor of on-time graduation.

Juneau says the district isn’t waiting for fall – it’s getting started now with its Seattle Super Readers program at schools with large populations of students of color.

All kindergarten- through third-grade students at those schools are going home with ten books to read over the summer.

"Because we know that students need to be reading through the summer if they're going to be able to start in the fall ready to go. So in the fall we'll be doing a formal launch of Seattle Super Readers.

"We want to make sure that we are focusing in on pre-K-3 reading that it's for all. Everybody should be reading. Everybody should be on target.

"It is professional development for pre-K-3 teachers, and that is both on instructional kinds of skills, but also belief systems. Do all of our teachers believe that students of color have the ability to read by third grade.”

This interview was edited for clarity.