Shock waves reverberated throughout the nation’s capital yesterday afternoon when news came onto the Washington Post website that Kaya Henderson had decided to step down as Chancellor of the District of Columbia public school system. According to the story Ms. Henderson was leaving her position after six years at the end of September, with a total of 10 years spent working for DCPS. Mayor Muriel Bowser immediately named John Davis, the current DCPS chief of schools, as interim Chancellor beginning October 1st, while simultaneously declaring that she did not ask Ms. Henderson to go. A national search will begin for a successor, with a replacement not expected to be named until the start of the 2017 to 2018 school term.
There were a few significant reasons that Ms. Henderson’s resignation was such a surprise. Most people assumed that she would stick around until 2017 to see the conclusion of her five year strategic plan. She is exiting at a period in which enrollment has increased in the traditional school system for four consecutive years. Her pupils have demonstrated the strongest academic growth of any urban school district in this country. New families are moving to D.C., drawn in part by improvements to the public schools.
But in the end I guess the pressure associated with her role overcame the rewards of her success. She told the Post, “This is dog years on your life,” Henderson said of her job. “Leadership is about knowing when to pass the baton. I know that there are other people that can pick it up and run with it.”
I have been writing about public education in D.C. since 2009. As a fierce school choice advocate I have advanced the position that all of Washington’s schools should be charters, writing that DCPS facilities that are under-performing be turned over to those that are rated as Tier 1 on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework. I wanted the regular school system dismantled.
I did not just say this once but repeated it over and over again. Then, at the end of 2015, I was granted an interview with Kaya Henderson. It is not an understatement to state that after meeting her my life has never been the same. Here was someone that was energetic, positive, direct, and kind who was determined with all of her might not to tear apart what she had to work with but to strengthen her schools from within. She would accomplish this feat with dignity one teacher, one principal, and one student at a time. Here is what I wrote about our session:
“What I do understand is that we have a superstar in our possession that we must all support. Recent public conversations about whether a new Mayor would retain the services of Ms. Henderson do not help anyone. She is an individual who is totally convinced in her heart and in her head that by working together we can finally provide all students with a quality education, no matter their background. For me, today, this is more than sufficient.”
Thank you Kaya, my friend. You have helped so many children, not only in your own sector but because you have been such a strong competitor, you have pushed charters to improve. I guess then it is the appropriate moment to leave. You reached your goal.