Ex-Montana schools chief Denise Juneau chosen as Seattle schools superintendent

SEATTLE — The Seattle School Board on Wednesday night voted to enter contract negotiations with Denise Juneau to be the new Seattle schools superintendent. She was one of three candidates under consideration for the job.

If a contract is agreed to, the former Montana schools chief will take over in Seattle schools on July 1.

Juneau, who turns 51 on Thursday, is a member of the federally recognized Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.  She served as Montana’s state superintendent of public instruction from 2009 to 2017.

During her term as state schools chief, she reported that Montana’s graduation rate increased 4.7 percent, while the dropout rate decreased 1.3 percent. Juneau also oversaw the development of Montana’s “Schools of Promise Initiative”, an $11.5 million, three-year project that used federal grant money “to help teachers’ union leaders, school board officials, and administrators attempt to address students’ academic and social-emotional needs in some of the state’s most disadvantaged schools.”

In  2015, Juneau announced her candidacy for Monday’s lone U.S. House seat in the 2016 congressional election. Juneau — who is openly gay and the first such candidate to run for federal office in Montana — was defeated by then-incumbent Republican Ryan Zinke in the 2016 general election.

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

“We were thrilled with the quality of candidates, making this a harder decision than any of us expected. Our community and staff have high expectations for Seattle Schools. Denise Juneau is the right pick to fulfill our promise of equity and excellence.

“We have no time to lose on making the best education possible for every student, every day and in every classroom. Education is truly the key to the city’s future, and together, we have to unlock the doors.”

The Seattle School Board said last fall that it wanted to hire a new superintendent when Superintendent Larry Nyland’s contract ends in June 2018.