Add to that a $35 million budget deficit, potential staff layoffs, and implementing new contracts for teachers and principals.
But a week into her new job—the school board fired former superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson March 2 after an investigation found that she could have provided more oversight to prevent the district from wasting $1.8 million over questionable contracts and hired Enfield, who was previously chief academic officer—Enfield seems hardly perturbed.
She cracks up when I ask her about her brief stint as a French fry. "I loved that you put it in there," she says, referring to my first post about her. "Someone showed it to me, and I wondered 'how did she find out about it.’”
Enfield's only foray into the performing arts was during her high school freshman year, when she appeared on stage in yellow tights and T-shirt to dance to Jimmy Buffet's Cheesburger in Paradise. "I was the French fry who appeared when the chorus sang "I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French fried potatoes," she says, laughing.
I like the fact that she laughs a lot, something I can't really say for our previous superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson. My only one-on-one with Goodloe-Johnson at a community meeting last fall left me feeling like the naughtiest girl in the class who got sent out for asking too many questions.
“Her personality is definitely easier to get along with,” says Seattle teachers union vice president Jonathan Knapp. “She was a very good No. 2 for us. She would listen to us and take our concerns back to Goodloe-Johnson, but was very careful not to show her perspective. Now we want to see what she is really like."
An important test for Enfield would be to do something that shows how she’s different from Goodloe-Johnson.
Her biggest challenge, undoubtedly, will be putting proper internal controls into place, not just over district finances but also its ramped up ethics and whistleblower policies. "I want to have an open and honest culture," she says. Her inbox is already overflowing with emails from citizens concerned about a myriad of school district issues, and she's trying to set aside an hour every day to respond to everyone personally.
I ask her if it’s been super crazy, and she says she’s "met with staff, toured the district headquarters, put people at ease, shook hands, visited Olympia, given interviews, reached out to the community, and appointed an interim chief financial officer (the board fired the last one along with Goodloe-Johnson).
“A full week,” she says, but no, not super crazy.
"People still have questions about the scandal," she says. "They want stuff to happen quickly, but I am really getting the sense that they want to be heard." That's why her plan for the next 30 days is to talk to as many people in the community as possible. Students too. "I always think it's a mistake to underestimate how much students know," she says, explaining that the Franklin High School broadcast journalism class had just asked her a bunch of questions about the contract fraud.
And it’s not just the fraud, the district has run into numerous other management glitches in recent years—it discovered that the company that was collecting its lunchroom revenues was not doing a good job and yet decided to award it a similar contract for its Pay for K program. It ran into a couple of payroll snafus when it overpaid or sent duplicate paychecks to employees due to a software switch, resulting in a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars that it’s now trying to reclaim. It over-reported its Native American student population to the federal government resulting in a $300,000 overpayment which it now has to pay back from its general fund.
The first few months are not going to be easy, and Enfield holds no delusions about it either. The thing on everybody's mind is whether Enfield can improve the district's fiscal management oversight.
“Susan’s probably the most qualified candidate that we have had for superintendent in 30 years,” says School Board Director Kay Smith-Blum, citing her multiple degrees from Berkeley, Harvard, and Stanford, her stints as an ESL teacher and administrator, her dedication, and the fact that she comes from a grassroots family. “She understands a lot of layers and levels of current urban school district crises,” Smith Blum says. “I was quite pleased that when we realized we had to terminate [Goodloe-Johnson], we had Susan.”
The mayor has already offered to partner with the district by providing staff, expertise, and management, and although Enfield welcomes the gesture, she stressed that the "key word here is partnership." Enfield met with the mayor Monday and says that she needs “to do some work myself to see what exactly we need."