In his short time as Seattle Public School’s first Black superintendent, Gen. John Stanford made a significant impact, especially on the lives of students of color. Twenty years ago, Gen. Stanford passed but his legacy lives on in Seattle.

John Stanford was born September 14, 1938 in Darby, Penn. After high school, he attended Penn State University, leaving the school with a bachelor’s degree in 1961. That same year, he enlisted into the U.S. Army and went on to serve in the Vietnam War.

In June 1975 while still serving in the Army, Stanford earned a master’s degree from Central Michigan University in personnel management and administration. In 1991, Stanford retired as a major general and went on to Fulton County, Ga. to become its county manager. In 1995, Seattle reached out to recruit him for its superintendent role despite Stanford not having a background in education.

After boldly declaring he had never failed at achieving goals, Stanford swiftly moved in and made changes that proved his doubters wrong. In his first day, Stanford ordered central office staff to spend one day per week volunteering within the school district. He also made poor customer service a fireable offense

In the first few days of taking the post, Stanford put forth what he called a “reading offensive” which led to the donation of thousands of books to school libraries, and imposed tougher academic standards. His reforms were first met with criticism but his practices led to educational improvement.

In 1998, Stanford revealed a leukemia diagnosis but continued to press on while being treated for it. While It first appeared he would recover, he passed on November 28, 1998, survived by his wife and two sons.

The school district renamed its headquarters after him and a former elementary school was renamed the John Stanford International School, which features a rigorous foreign language program.


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