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How John Stanford Made a Difference

Written by and printed gratefully with permission of Susan Llewellyn, Special Assistant to the Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

John Stanford served as Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools from August of 1995 until his death from complications of leukemia in November of 1998. When he came to Seattle, he brought with him a remarkable enthusiasm, a tireless dedication to improving the life of this city's children, and an abiding commitment to making Seattle Public Schools the best urban school district in the United States.

John Stanford smiles and waves at a back-to-school rally.

During his three years as Superintendent, he often said that he had found in Seattle Public Schools a workforce without parallel...bright, dedicated, and completely committed to children. He was excited by the parents, businesses, and community members who offered the school system overwhelming support. He loved this city, with its strong spirit, deep sense of compassion and fairness, and a great deal of optimism about its children, its schools, and its future. To John Stanford, the victory was in the classroom, and he admired and celebrated Seattle's teachers as its heroes. Throughout his time in the school system, he never ceased to marvel at the teachers, principals, administrators, and support staff who love every child entrusted to their care -- and who prove every day that all children will learn.

John Stanford knew that a school system is made great by the participation of its staff, parents, businesses, and community members. The District's accomplishments during his three years reflect not just his energy and passion, but a commitment from an entire city to "make it happen" for children:

  • A clear vision and mission;

  • Increased student achievement;

  • A city-wide reading Ccampaign to make every child a reader;

  • Quantifiable targets for student achievement;

  • Quarterly student progress reports;

  • A Principals' Academy to help principals work effectively as CEO's of their school; and

  • A three-year teachers' contract that promotes shared decision-making, and which treats teachers as the valued professionals they are. School district/corporate compacts in environmental education, school-to-work, the arts, technology, and international language and culture.

John Stanford referred to himself as the CEO of Destiny, Inc. and he fervently believed that his calling was to create dreams, destinies, and hope for children. Two students who spoke at his Memorial Service in December 1998, Jackie Lopez and Mutanda Kwesele, invented a new phrase: Stanford hope. Of all his accomplishments in Seattle, perhaps Superintendent Stanford's most enduring legacies are the love and hope he has generated for our children in this city, this state, and this nation. We have had to relinquish John Stanford as the dreamer, but we will never relinquish his dreams...our children are too important!

What makes a person great?
Not, how did you die?
But how did you live.
Not, how did you die?
But what did you give?
Not, what was your station.
But did you have a heart?
And how did you play
Your God-given part?
These are the units
That measure the worth
Of a man, or a woman,
Regardless of birth.


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