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Originally published December 16, 2011 at 11:59 AM | Page modified December 16, 2011 at 9:57 PM

Enfield: 'I will be a superintendent' — but not in Seattle

Seattle Public Schools Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield announced Friday she won't seek the district's top job.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Seattle Public Schools Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield said on Friday she wants to be schools superintendent — just not in Seattle.

Without explaining her decision, Enfield said she would not seek the permanent job, even though she likely had enough votes on the School Board for the position.

Her announcement guarantees continued turmoil for Seattle Public Schools as it launches a national search for the district's fourth new leader since 2003.

"I'm very saddened and, quite frankly, very worried about what this means for the children in our city," board member Harium Martin-Morris said. "I'm really concerned about losing the momentum that we have started to achieve under Susan's guidance."

Enfield, whose annual salary was $225,000, was expected by many to seek the permanent position. She took over the district in March, when the board fired former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. The board planned to vote next month whether to conduct a search or offer Enfield the position outright.

Enfield, who began her career as a teacher and worked as an administrator in Portland and Vancouver, Wash., was the district's chief academic officer before being appointed interim superintendent. She was seen as more charismatic than Goodloe-Johnson, and was well-liked by the board and supported by all three unions whose members work for the school district.

Enfield, who will stay through the end of her contract in June, said she was leaving for "my own personal and professional reasons," which she would not discuss. Asked about her professional plans, she said, "I will be a superintendent."

New makeup of board

Enfield announced her departure plans after November's election shake-up of the School Board. The board — with two new members — could present new challenges for Enfield.

However, four incumbents on the seven-member board have said they thought Enfield was doing a good job and that national searches for superintendents can be expensive.

Board member Sharon Peaslee, who joined the board this month, said Friday she wouldn't have voted to appoint Enfield without a national search.

"We need to find a superintendent who will be here for the long haul. And we need to find a superintendent who wants to work with this board and who wants to collaborate with us on envisioning where we're headed," Peaslee said.

While saying that could have been Enfield, Peaslee said she wanted to go through the search process.

Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, said her group "knew that this was a possibility" because it was clear that the revamped School Board, which held its first meeting last week, would likely try to control more of district operations than Enfield may have been comfortable with.

The board won't be able to attract a good candidate if it tries to micromanage the district, Korsmo said.

"For kids who are in schools who have struggled but are improving, this is a potential disaster," she said. "One more regime change in this school district that takes our focus off what we know is important — highly effective instruction and strong leadership — it cannot be good for kids."

Board President Michael DeBell said he dreads another search, partly because it's difficult to persuade applicants to take the job.

In the district's last search, all but the winning applicant had dropped out by the end.

"It's a good job," DeBell said. "We're a very highly educated city with a lot of support. I do think being an urban superintendent is an incredibly difficult job."

Turnover not unusual

Over the past decade, the district has faced a series of crises and emergency appointments in the superintendents' office.

Churn at the top is not uncommon. Big-city school districts have a notoriously high superintendent turnover, with an average tenure of about three years, DeBell said.

In Seattle, the board in 1998 appointed the district's financial officer, Joseph Olchefske, while then-Superintendent John Stanford was dying of leukemia. But Olchefske stepped down after a financial crisis in 2003.

He was replaced by his chief operating officer, Raj Manhas, who left in 2006 amid controversy about school closures.

The board did a search and hired Maria Goodloe-Johnson the next year. She stayed for almost four years before the board fired her last spring in the wake of a contracting scandal.

Enfield acknowledged Friday that her decision will have an impact on the district. During her short tenure, she was credited with improving the culture of the organization, which critics said had grown toxic under Goodloe-Johnson.

Enfield cited an increase in enrollment, a higher graduation rate and better test scores, all positive signs of progress.

"We really tried to work toward a culture of excellence," she said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246

or eheffter@seattletimes.com

On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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