Michelle Reid: National Superintendent of the Year

An Interview with Michelle Reid, National Superintendent of the Year: Recognized for Northshore’s focus on Educational Justice

Congratulations, Michelle, on your recognition as AASA National Superintendent of the Year, for 2021.  You and your Northshore team have done great work.  Thank you for sharing your hard won wisdom, successes and lessons learned along the way.  Stories like yours show us the way and give us the confidence that we too can do great work.

What are you proudest of?

The progress our kids have made.
Our kids are the big WHY. They are WHY we are here. 

  • Early childhood. We have gone from serving 0% to serving 76% of our early childhood students. Our goal is 100%.  Our cost outlay is nothing compared to the lives we are changing.
  • Inclusion: We went from 83% served within special education settings to 92% served in inclusive, regular classroom, settings.  I am really proud of that.  We have two demonstration sites with the Haring center at the University of Washington.  Our new school, Ruby Bridges, is fully inclusive.  Ruby Bridges herself joined us, via Zoom, for the opening of the school.
  • Hi-Cap. I am ridiculously proud of making Hi-Cap based on universal screening, K-8.  Hi-Cap was by invitation only.  Now we screen every student – 18,000.  Donna Ford, came from Vanderbilt University to review our system.  She told us that until we see students of color as gifted, we will never make real progress on closing equity gaps.  We have increased participation of students of color by 600%.
  • English Language Learner graduation rates have gone from 56% to 89%; our goal is to match the 94% graduation rate district-wide.
  • Our national college-going rate is 81% and after three years at least two-thirds are still enrolled.

What are the core values that make this work possible?

Courage, Purpose and Commitment:

  • Courage: Brené Brown says, “You can choose courage or comfort; but you cannot choose both.”  That sums up the work we’ve done.
  • Purpose: We constantly go back to our “WHY.” It’s about kids, not us.  None of our changes happened overnight.  Our WHY keeps us centered.
  • Commitment: Stay the course.  Support leaders.  Grow and develop leadership.

Talk more about developing leadership.

All meaningful change flows through our principals.

To achieve our big WHY we needed to provide more support to principals.  We regionalized supervision and support. We trained supervisors to be regional leaders and our services now follow the journey of our students.  Family advocates, special education, ELL and many other services are now delivered by region.  This was not without conflict. You have to have confidence to stay the course.  I am super proud of the team we have assembled.

How do you communicate what you want Northshore to become?

Communications is a priority on my schedule.

I visit every classroom every year and review school improvement plans with every principal three times per year – directly.  I do “Wednesdays Live” on Facebook, hold parent focus groups, and do labor / management problem solving twice a week around COVID.  And I have a fabulous communications director who helps us tell our story.

What one thing will remain embedded the DNA of every Northshore leader?

Developing and nurturing leaders is the best way to leave a legacy.

I am really proud of the energy in “Our House.” We can’t control everything that happens outside of our house; but we can do something about what goes on inside our house.  We believe that, “Together, all things are possible.”  And that, “In our house we care deeply about each other, we will be our best selves, and we will stay in the light and bring others into the light.”  My hope is that that all of this will remain as part of the culture.

Say more about how you grow and develop principals.

We invest time and resources in principal development.

We have three levels of academies for principals:  new, intermediate and aspiring.  Dr. Tracy Malloy leads that work. I hold open hours from 12-1 pm on Friday.  And I meet with each principal three times per year directly about their plan and their work.  I am pretty clear about what I expect.

What have you learned about problem solving?

If we stay connected, we stay ahead of most problems.

It’s when we are not connected that we start to fray.  It is far easier to solve problems when they are small, when you catch them early.  I try to stay connected and stay current.

What do you need to know and do to make change successful?

Know yourself … really know yourself.  And let people know your heart.

Yours is the most important life you lead.  Share your core values and act on them.  Bud Scarr used to say, If you walk past mediocrity you have lost your moral authority to lead.  I make it a point to pause and take action.

What are the conditions needed to make change successful?


Creating a culture of trust is key, from kids to families to staff.  Trust enables you to move in ways that you otherwise could not.  The first things I did when I came to Northshore were to listen, learn, watch, and build trust.  Speed of Trust (Stephen M. R. Covey) was one of the first books we bought for our leadership team. You can only lead at the “Speed of Trust.”

What commitments are needed to make change successful?

Personal integrity is everything.  

Honesty, authenticity.  People watch you.   It is an accumulation of all those little commitments you make along the way that builds trust.

Advice for new superintendents

  • Be very prayerful about the work. This has to be a “calling.”
  • Be transparent, vulnerable and thoughtful. Listen, watch, pick up cues. What feels dissonant?  Share, “Here’s what I know to be true today.”

“Lessons learned” along the way

  • Family First. For me, I’m a mom first. That is my love and my joy.  I’m a quality superintendent but the job doesn’t define who I am as a person.  Family comes first. You give your best, but you don’t put work ahead of family.  Make sure that balance is there.  Colleagues won’t be by your bedside at the end, family will.
  • Networking is the most important skill. It has been critical to my success.  Diversity in cabinet.  Reaching out to colleagues outside the district.

Any final thoughts on effective leadership?

Prayerful leadership … to do the right thing.

When we decided to close schools due to COVID, CNN asked me what was I thinking in the moment we made the decision to close schools?  My response was that I was prayerful and assured that we had done the right thing.

Once again, congratulations, Michelle.  Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom, your experiences and the successes of your Northshore team. 


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Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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