Monday, March 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Welcome leadership for Seattle schools

The shakeup in Seattle Public Schools' top leadership is welcome news.

Superintendent Raj Manhas replaced Chief Academic Officer June Rimmer and High School Director Sharon Wilkins with longtime district educators committed to change.

The bold move will help energize district reform efforts and bring a renewed sense of urgency and possibility to the city's schools.

A $35 million financial debacle, budget cuts, poor communication and low morale have plagued the district in recent years. Manhas' capable leadership is proving to be just the tonic the district needs to get back on track.

Manhas has earned the respect of principals, teachers, board members, union leaders and the community through his skilled listening, honesty and decisive leadership. His appointment of a new leadership team was timely and thoughtful.

Both Rimmer and Wilkins made contributions to district transformation during their tenures but spawned critics along the way.

Rimmer faced opposition from parents of highly capable students, who doubted her commitment to the programs. Some educators saw her as too top-down in a district moving toward increased autonomy for schools.

Steve Wilson is an exciting replacement for Rimmer. A lifelong educator and former superintendent who has been principal at Ingraham High School, Wilson was a candidate for the district's superintendency last year. He is a tireless, well-respected district leader with a strong track record of improving achievement.

His most recent stint at Ingraham — he was also principal there for eight years in the 1980s — has been marked by positive change.

Ammon McWashington, who will serve as Executive Director of High Schools, brings a solid 30-year career with the district to the post.

This is a critical time for Seattle schools. Despite gains in academic achievement at many schools, a wide gap remains between the academic achievement of white students and many students of color. At least five of the city's high schools have open principalships, and the district's budget remains excruciatingly tight. Federal laws mandate yearly progress on student test scores.

These new leaders will bring on-the-ground experience, vision and enthusiasm to the district's pressing challenges.

Manhas is proving his pledge to "do, not just talk" was much more than an empty promise.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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