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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

December 1, 2014 at 6:57 PM

Seattle School Board delays superintendent vote

Larry Nyland

Larry Nyland

The Seattle School Board announced Monday that it will delay a vote on whether to appoint interim schools chief Larry Nyland as full superintendent, saying it wants to allow the public time to weigh in.

The board’s president, Sharon Peaslee, had previously scheduled a vote for Wednesday on whether to give Nyland the job, catching flak from some parents and activists who said they weren’t given enough time to offer their views. Nyland came out of retirement in August to lead Seattle Public Schools. Before he retired last year, he led the Marysville School District for nine years.

Rather than vote on Wednesday, the board now plans to introduce the matter for discussion. It will then vote on it at a special meeting that has been called for Dec. 10, according to a district statement released Monday evening.

Peaslee said Monday that the vote was delayed because so many emails from the public asked the board to do so.

Peaslee said the board usually introduces and votes on superintendent job offers in the same meeting and that Nyland’s would have been no exception.

“But because there was no public process leading up to this vote, we are delaying action for a week so that people may weigh in,” she said.

The district will use the school board’s email address (schoolboard@seattleschools.org) to collect feedback on whether Nyland’s contract, which now ends in June, should be extended through June 2017. Members of the public can also sign up to speak in a limited number of two-minute comment slots at the board’s meeting Wednesday. Whether public comment will be taken at the special meeting Dec. 10 has not yet been decided, Peaslee said.

“I realize that this is not what some people want in the form of full, public engagement,” Peaslee said. “We cannot satisfy everyone, even when we do a full-blown public search.”

If the board decides against offering Nyland the job, then the board will launch a search immediately, she said.

But Peaslee reiterated her opposition to a search, saying that the school district, already plagued by turnover at the top, loses some of its best leaders during superintendent searches.

“Another superintendent search would be insanely destabilizing,” she said.

Among the emails the board received this week was a plea from the Seattle Council of Parent, Teacher and Student Associations.

Several days notice over a holiday weekend “is simply not enough time,” the group wrote in a letter they emailed to the school board and several hundred Seattle-area PTA officers Monday afternoon.

The news of the board’s decision to delay the vote came several hours later.

Katherine Schomer, the group’s president, said she was glad the board decided to delay for a week but still feels the action is happening too fast.

“I guess that’s better than nothing,” she said Monday.

Though Schomer’s group is not taking a stance on whether Nyland is the right fit for the job or whether the board should do a full-blown search, she said more public input is necessary.

“Whatever they do, there should be a process, and it should allow families to be a part of that process, just like they have in the past,” she said.

Board members met last week in a public work session and more extensively in executive sessions to discuss how Nyland is handling his role as interim superintendent.

The board also released an overview of their evaluation of Nyland’s performance in his four months on the job, but it ended up being more about the school district than about him.

That’s because Nyland has only been working in Seattle for such a short time, board members wrote.

In its six-page review, the board expressed only favorable sentiments about Nyland.

During the short period Nyland has been in charge, they wrote, he has met the board’s expectations.

“He stepped in with a calm demeanor and clearly established his leadership while cultivating relationships with staff and the Board,” the evaluation states.

The board members wrote that Nyland has a clear vision for the school district, and has identified root causes of its biggest issues. They said he has a “measured approach to making changes.”

Board members also wrote that they appreciate Nyland’s willingness to admit when there is a problem and to apologize when he is at fault. In the last month, Nyland has publicly apologized for signing a $750,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation months before his board voted to approve it, and for the release of some 8,000 student records to a parent by a law firm working for the district.

“In the next year, it will be critical for him to continue his performance, and in particular to show that he can improve the culture of the District,” the evaluation states.

Board members were much more critical when measuring the district’s performance as a whole.

Using ratings that ranged from “distinguished” to “unsatisfactory,” board members ranked the district as meeting expectations in only three areas out of 12: professional development for the new learning standards known as the Common Core, staff evaluations and transportation services.

They also wrote that the district is behind on implementing many of its top goals. They rated the district “unsatisfactory” in that area.

In years past, the board’s evaluation has not looked so favorably on superintendents. The board was split on its review of former Superintendent Jose Banda, who left Seattle Public Schools in July to lead the Sacramento Unified School District.

In a separate self-evaluation, school board members agreed they could do more to help implement the district’s strategic plan, that they are satisfied with how well they monitor the district’s budget, and that their ability to engage the public – though they ranked themselves low in that area – was improving.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Larry Nyland, Seattle Public Schools

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