And Then There Was One
School Board Appoints José Banda Superintendent After Other Finalists Drop Out
When the Seattle School Board brought its three superintendent finalists to town the week of April 23, you couldn't blame its directors for wanting to put their best foot forward—especially considering the heart-wrenching rejections they've experienced in the past.
In 2007, one of two superintendent finalists dropped out of consideration, handing Maria Goodloe-Johnson the job by default. In 2003, all four finalists withdrew their names after being wooed by the district. And just last December, interim superintendent Susan Enfield (who stepped in after Goodloe-Johnson lost her job in a financial scandal) announced she didn't want to keep her job. Enfield then accepted the superintendent position in nearby Highline.
So the district wasn't taking any chances of scaring away candidates this time around. For example, rather than your typical (and perhaps intimidating) free-for-all press conference with candidates, the district divided reporters into three groups, assigning each group to brief 15-minute chats with finalists. It made for interviews that were as low-key and stress-free as one could imagine.
And it didn't help.
Over the weekend, Steven Enoch, the energetic superintendent from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District near San Francisco, and the favorite of some parent activists, withdrew his name from consideration. On Monday morning, Sandra Husk, the ambitious superintendent at the Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon, and the choice of charter- school advocates and the Seattle Times, followed suit. School board directors insist that they had already settled on the remaining candidate, José Banda, before the last of his competitors bailed, but this latest jump in the district's superintendent dropout rate only adds to the board's reputation for not being able to work and play well with others.
Fortunately, even a blind pig sometimes finds a truffle, and after more than a decade of turmoil and turnover, Banda, a calm and collaborative superintendent from the Anaheim City School District (you know, Disneyland), may be exactly what the district needs, whatever the circumstances behind his appointment.
Reporters and school board members alike came away impressed by Banda's calm and reassuring demeanor, as well as his focus on collaboration. "There is nothing more important than feedback," Banda emphasized, reinforcing his reputation as a consensus builder. That's music to the ears of parents and teachers who have long criticized the district for failing to listen to its individual school communities.
And while critics advocating for radical change are disappointed by Banda's refusal to embrace charter schools and Teach for America (and other parts of what's called the "corporate reform" agenda), his record of achieving incremental improvements in Anaheim is a far better fit for a district that does at least as much right as it does wrong.
Banda cited our yawning achievement gap as the district's greatest challenge, while lauding Seattle Public Schools as a "jewel" among big-city districts. In this context, Banda's promise to focus on building community and stability would be a welcome respite from the previous regime of five-year-plans implemented by three-year-superintendents.