Chancellor Kaya Henderson will be leaving her job on Oct. 1. (Courtesy Photo)
District classes are scheduled to start in less than three weeks while at the same time there is a nationwide search for a new public school chancellor. Current Chancellor Kaya Henderson is set to step down on Oct. 1 after five years on the job. Mayor Muriel Bowser will name her replacement following the search.
As summer heads into its remaining weeks, District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) officials are preparing for the 2016-2017 academic year. For the traditional schools, new teacher orientation will begin on Aug. 10-11 and the first day of school is Aug. 22. In the schools with the new extended-school year, which is nearly year-round with frequent breaks, students return to school on Aug. 8.
While D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson has said publicly that DCPS is the “fastest improving school district in the country,” a recently released study by WalletHub titled 2016’s Best & Worst Schools Systems, said that the District as a state ranks 47th among 51.
The school system’s rank for quality was 50th out of 51 and its safety rank was 24 out of 51.
The study said the District had the highest dropout rate and the lowest math, reading, and SAT scores. One positive note in the report said that the District had the lowest rate of bullying in schools.
In face of the report and Henderson’s assessment of her district, parents, and community members spoke out on what needs to be done to make the upcoming academic term a success.
Marvin Tucker, executive director of the One City All-Star Extravaganza (OCASE) Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes education through athletics, told the AFRO that in many cases, students don’t have the proper supplies to learn in class. He said that even though the District’s economy is “doing great and the unemployment rate is down, there are families that are struggling to get by.”
“There are some students who don’t have school supplies to have a productive year,” Tucker said. “These students need extra help and we do that by providing backpacks and the other things that they need.”
Douglas Sloan, a Democratic political commentator and an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 4B09 in Ward 4 said he is looking forward to his six-year-old attending Shepherd Elementary School for first grade. “The school and the atrium has just been renovated and that is pretty exciting,” Sloan told the AFRO. “They need to complete the cafeteria and make other renovations but I am pleased with what they have done.”
However, Sloan said that he has concerns about his child’s school day. “There needs to be more recess at the schools,” he said. “Right now, they are getting about 30 minutes a day and it really should be about 60 minutes daily. More recess will fight childhood obesity and physical activity should be just as important as music and art in the curriculum.”
Sloan said that he has the financial means to send his child to a private school but has opted for DCPS. “DCPS is doing well in preK-5th grade,” he said. “There are some great elementary schools with innovative programs. The real impact is when parents and the community are involved in the schools. That is when the schools will get better.”
On July 29, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced a 17-member DCPS Rising Leadership Committee that will provide her with recommendations during the process to select a new chancellor. “We are moving full steam ahead in our search for the next DCPS chancellor,” Bowser said. “The DCPS Rising Leadership Committee is composed of principals, teachers, students, parents, and community members and is truly representative of our diverse city. I look forward to working with them and thank them for their dedication to our students.”
The committee is co-chaired by Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, and Gina Adams, a Ballou High School graduate who is the senior vice president of government affairs for FedEx. Other noted members of the commission include Thomas Penny, general manager of the Courtyard Marriot Convention Center; Ward 8 parent Tara Brown; H.D. Woodson High School student Kevin Dilliard; Ed Fisher, director of community affairs at Carefirst BlueCross/BlueShield; and a DCPS parent Jonte Lee, a Wilson High School teacher.
The committee is scheduled to meet three times during the chancellor selection process to gather and synthesize information about the candidates before making its recommendation to Bowser.
The committee will hold three community forums so that the public can provide their input into the process. The forums will be at Roosevelt High School on Aug. 30 from 6:30-8 p.m., Eastern High School on Sept. 7, and Savoy Elementary School on Sept. 14 from 6:30-8 p.m.