The Seattle school board is kicking off its search for a new superintendent with a community town hall on Thursday evening, but labor groups representing teachers and principals are urging the school board to forgo the search and extend current Superintendent Larry Nyland’s contract instead.
The Seattle Education Association has more than 5,000 members in the school district. The union sent a letter to the school board late last year urging the board to retain Nyland as superintendent and has reiterated that message to the board this week. They say the district needs stable leadership and that Nyland has built a collaborative relationship with teachers and staff since they went on strike in 2015.
Nyland’s contract is set to expire at the end of June, when the union and the district will be negotiating a new contract. Nyland took on the district’s top job on an interim basis in 2014 after the previous superintendent, José Banda, left for a position in Sacramento after just two years. The board later chose to hire Nyland permanently instead of conducting a national search.
“Our members are concerned for lots of reasons, but at that point, right in the middle of bargaining, somebody up top could change the whole tenor and move us in a different direction,” said Phyllis Campano, president of the Seattle Education Association.
Likewise, the Principals' Association of Seattle Schools wrote to the school board this week asking that Nyland’s contract be extended.
“Over the past four years, with Dr. Nyland’s leadership, we have seen a transformation in Seattle with a sense of clarity, a focus on equity, and a commitment to working with educators and building leaders in order to close opportunity gaps and ensure excellence for every student,” Paula Montgomery, president of the principal association and principal of Jane Addams Middle School, wrote in the letter.
Seattle School Board President Leslie Harris said she doesn’t think hiring a new superintendent will derail bargaining and that there’s a chance Nyland will stay a few extra months to help the next superintendent get oriented.
Harris said Nyland has done great work, but that now is the time to do a national search and bring in someone new.
“We made the thoughtful, considered decision that we want to take the benefits of our forward progress and really leverage on it, have someone come in with extraordinary energy and leadership and really move forward,” Harris said.
Nevertheless, competition for people qualified to run large school districts will be fierce this year. New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago all face vacancies in the top positions in their public school systems, though Chicago is reportedly expected to make its interim CEO permanent later this month.