With Gratitude to Kaya Henderson

June 30, 2016 / D.C. Education

On Wednesday, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the Chancellor will be stepping down, effective October 1. It is a tremendous loss for our city, and for our part at CityBridge, we wish we could have had the benefit of her wise and steady leadership for as long as possible.

But all things come to an end, and in this moment, we feel a significant debt of gratitude to Kaya. More than five years ago, she stepped forward to become the Interim Chancellor, upon Michelle Rhee’s departure, and then to accept the permanent appointment in the spring of 2011. Kaya knew the tremendous personal cost shouldered by any urban superintendent or chancellor: the demands are 24-7; the needs of children are urgent; and the politics can be brutal. But she said yes. She said yes and then spent the next five years putting her significant talent and leadership, and her exceptionally wise and compassionate heart, in the service of DC Public Schools.

And the results speak for themselves: Washington, D.C. as a whole, and the DC Public Schools that Henderson led, are consistently now the fastest improving urban school district in the country. And that improvement can be found across every student demographic category. Naysayers point to the increasing numbers of middle and upper income families choosing DC Public Schools—which in itself is a vote of confidence. But even correcting for this change, progress in D.C. has been broad and deep. Everyone has benefited.

The Chancellor takes great pains to give credit for this progress to the team she has assembled—and, indeed, she has attracted and retained a superstar group, including Chief of Schools John Davis, who will step into the role of Interim Chancellor. But the person at the top does matter: she sets the tone and style of leadership; she is the public face of high expectations. And in this leadership role, we could not have imagined anyone better. Kaya Henderson has embraced her constituencies—the students, teachers, parents and leaders in DCPS—with a warmth and respect that is consistent and genuine. But she has also never shied away from the hard work and hard calls that education entails: She embraced the transition to much higher Common Core standards; she built a workforce that was better and stronger every single year of her tenure; and she made tough choices when she had to. Being true to both of those things—standing for both nurture and rigor—is a tough balancing act. She has done it beautifully. And we are one lucky city as a result.

Katherine Bradley, President, CityBridge Foundation

Mieka Wick, Executive Director, CityBridge Foundation