After nearly eight months in office and a unanimous confirmation by the D.C. Council, Kaya Henderson is set to serve as the second chancellor since public schools control was turned over to the mayor in 2007.
Henderson’s vision for D.C. Public School (DCPS) is pretty straightforward: A better school requires all hands on deck. “The school system doesn’t belong to me or my staff,” she said. “We need everyone in the community – from our neighbors and parents – everyone in the community to help us meet the mission.”
Ensuring teachers are plugged into the community and having a highly effective teacher in every class in DCPS has been her goal, she said. “We see parents rally around schools for beautification day and enrollment drives and making sure that we have the system set up to allow this kind of support and interaction to happen is my vision for D.C. schools,” the New York native said.
As the only nominee from Mayor Vincent Gray (D) for the position, Henderson is often compared to her predecessor Michelle Rhee, who served as chancellor under former Mayor Adrian Fenty. She said her style is different. The drive is still there, Henderson said, but how she oversees the school system will be different. “Every leader leads with a different style and my style is different from Michelle,” she said. “But I think the thing that drew me here to work with her is still the same.
“It’s a sense of urgency around what kids in DCPS can accomplish and a striving to deliver results for kids and families who are in the District.”
Rhee implemented a controversial new evaluation system called IMPACT, which Henderson and her team have decided to continue. This is the second year D.C. has decided to lay off a large number of teachers due to results from the system. More than 400 employees were given pink slips July 15 for poor performance and licensing issues, which angered the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU). Those who performed well are considered “highly effective,” and will receive bonuses of up to $25,000.
Nathan Saunders, president of the WTU, testified during a D.C. Council hearing about the confirmation of Henderson. “I remain concerned and committed today, as ever, to the 266 wrongfully terminated (2009 RIF), the 75 probationary teachers who won at arbitration and sensible modifications to the IMPACT teacher evaluation system whereby 50 percent of teacher effectiveness ratings are based directly on student test scores,” said Saunders, who also mentioned he was willing to work with the chancellor on other issues.
The former deputy chancellor said the school system has to professionally develop people who are struggling, and DCPS could not do that previously. So Rhee and Henderson then “aggressively” implemented the new performance evaluation, which they both thought was desperately needed.
“This is a very different system,” she said. “For some people that’s challenging.”
Henderson said when she began to work with the D.C. school system, it was difficult to recognize top performing teachers. “I think one of the challenges when we got her in 2007 is you could not identify who your high performers were or who your low performers were and in any organization you need to be able to recognize and report high performers,” she said.
The chancellor admitted the new system has affronted long-standing school officials, but said D.C. has to remove itself from old ways. “We have to move away from the days where we think people are doing a good job because they’re nice and move to a point where able to measure them on the things we know are important,” Henderson said.
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown chimed in to support the recent evaluations by issuing a statement. “While we must do more to help those teachers on the bubble to get better, we must embrace IMPACT as one of the tools that will allow us to achieve true education reform for the District’s school system,” Brown stated.
While top performing teachers receive a boost to their salary, Henderson’s salary will remain at $275,000, without bonuses, due to recommendations made by the government operations committee, led by Council member Mary Cheh’s (D-Ward 3). In an effort to preserve funds during a rough economic patch, Cheh said the salary cap was necessary.
Henderson said she understood the council’s decision, but feels at some point officials have to be rewarded for their performance. “I get it; until the city is in a better financial situation then I understand why there is a cap on salary,” she said. “But I think over the long-term, the council will have to figure out how they are able to attract and retain people if there isn’t an ability to grow your salary.”
If the mayor requests a bonus for the chancellor, the council would have to convene and vote on the increase.