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Originally published March 4, 2011 at 4:24 PM | Page modified March 7, 2011 at 9:54 AM

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New Seattle Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield must restore trust and order

If Susan Enfield would like her job as interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools to become permanent, the route is straightforward: restore public confidence and trust.

Superintendent's interview

WATCH SUSAN ENFIELD'S interview with the Seattle Times editorial board.

http://seati.ms/seaschools

IF Susan Enfield would like her job as interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools to become permanent, the route is straightforward: restore public confidence and trust.

No major changes or new efforts come close to the need to end the chaos and distrust permeating the district.

We are guardedly optimistic about Enfield's chances. For 20 months she was the district's chief academic officer. But it is difficult to distinguish her record from the previous superintendent's vision.

There will be some on-the-job learning. Enfield has held seven positions in 10 years but has never led an urban district nor worked on its financial side. But she exudes energy, professionalism and a willingness to collaborate — persuasive attributes in a district that must shed its culture of lax indifference.

Enfield smartly makes up for her lack of fiscal experience with open collaboration with the board on permanent placements for chief financial officer and chief operations officer — two positions carved from one. A more muscular internal auditing staff is also in the works.

Due respect and a critical eye must be paid to academic programs and spending priorities. A workable but massive strategic plan created in better financial times can be scaled back. The task should be balanced with an appreciation of important ongoing work.

The student assignment plan is the centerpiece of that work. The shift from an expensive, unwieldy choice system to the consistency of neighborhood schools was the right thing to do. Other things to keep include the additional advanced placement classes in high schools and the new advanced learning and gifted education programs in elementary and middle schools. Efforts to improve academic quality throughout the city, particularly in the south and southwest sections are critical.

Enfield will be tested and rightly so. The assignment plan has rough spots, school quality remains uneven and standardized testing remains a misunderstood and contentious issue.

But Enfield has been given an unusual opportunity to lead. She should not blow it.

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