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Finalists For Top Seattle Public Schools Job Say They Want To Improve Outcomes For All Kids

Ashley Gross
From left: Denise Juneau, Jeanice Swift and Andre Spencer

Seattle Public Schools have big disparities in test scores by race and income level. The three people competing to run the Seattle school district all say closing that gap is top priority.

Denise Juneau served as state superintendent of public instruction in Montana. She focused there on getting more kids to graduate by creating peer mentoring programs and pairing students with adult graduation coaches.

“We all know that it takes one caring adult to connect with every kid to make sure they make it through school, so those graduation coaches were able to really connect with kids and make sure they were hitting the mark as they make their way through school,” Juneau said.

Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes. She said improving outcomes for American Indian children in Montana required understanding concentrated poverty and mental health needs.

Another finalist, Andre Spencer, also has overseen a district with a lot of poverty. He is superintendent of Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He said it’s important to figure out early on if kids need more support.

“We know that by the time a student gets to fourth grade, if that student is not reading at or above grade level, that student has a higher rate of dropout, but we can prevent that and we can prevent that by making sure the student is reading by the end of first grade,” Spencer said.

The third candidate, Jeanice Swift, is superintendent in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She praised the recommendations of the African-American Male Advisory Committee, a group set up in 2016 to help improve outcomes for black children in Seattle schools.

“I love that the approach is really about having a relationship with students, that every student will be known by name, by strength, by need,” Swift said.

The Seattle school board is expected to announce its top candidate next week and have a new superintendent by this summer.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.