A Commitment to Education Justice
As a teacher, advocate, state education leader, and now urban superintendent, Denise Juneau, Ed.M.’94, has championed public education and social justice throughout her career. She has prioritized the voices of students and community members, improved student achievement, and — on more than one occasion — made history.
As Montana’s State Superintendent of Public Education, Denise Juneau was the first American Indian woman elected to statewide executive office in the U.S. Now she’s leading the way in Seattle.
Juneau began her career teaching on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. She later became director of Indian education at the Montana Office of Public Instruction, where she oversaw the implementation of Montana's Indian Education For All, a program designed to deliver instruction in all public schools in Montana on the state’s American Indian heritage.
When she was elected Montana’s State Superintendent of Public Education in 2008, Juneau — an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe and the Tlingit and Haida Tribes — became the first American Indian woman to be elected to statewide executive office in the United States. She led efforts to increase academic standards in English and math, which improved statewide test scores, and launched Graduation Matters Montana to combat the growing high school dropout trend. The initiative brought communities, businesses, schools, and families together to reach its goal, and it resulted in Montana’s highest recorded graduation rate.
“[Juneau’s] work for the State of Montana school system in the areas of increasing access, fighting for the disenfranchised, improving quality, and breaking down barriers to educational opportunity for all the students in Montana — and particularly for Native American students — embodies the far-reaching impact and advancement of the field of education,” said Alumni Council Chair Jonathan Steele, Ed.M.’05, when presenting Juneau with the Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education in 2015.
In 2018, Juneau became the 22nd Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, Washington state’s largest K–12 school district. Under Juneau’s leadership, Seattle Excellence, the district’s five-year strategic plan, outlined a mission to become an actively anti-racist school district. To amplify student voice, Juneau established the district’s first Student Advisory Board with student representatives from each district high school, focusing on students who have been historically marginalized in educational spaces. The first responsibility for all members is to “speak your truth.” – Sarah Garfinkel