Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Virginia’s firebrand attorney general flirts with running for the U.S. Senate. The regional airport authority tries to make nice with the feds on extending rail to Dulles. And a hate crime case in D.C. complicates the relationship between the city’s police and its gay community. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Kaya Henderson Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
- Frank Smith Former Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 1); and Chairman of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation
Politics Hour Extra
The Kojo Nnamdi Show (http://wamu.fm/o1B4jd): “We have to be willing to be courageous and do what’s right,” said D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, “because we’re wasting money, and it’s money that we should be plowing into classrooms.” Henderson said that currently, some neighborhoods in D.C. don’t have good choices for where to send children to school, and some neighborhoods have an “overabundance” of good options. Henderson says that the facilities fund will help officials distribute resources more efficiently:
Frank Smith, former D.C. Councilmember (D-Ward 1); and Chairman of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation, says that although he hasn’t yet seen the new Martin Luther King memorial, he is delighted that statue is being unveiled this weekend. Smith, who was a civil rights activist who worked at times alongside Martin Luther King, says that King “risked his life every single day:”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. The New York Times -- a New York Times headline today reads "Unlikely Echo of Gandhi Inspires Indians to Act." It's a story about 74-year-old Anna Hazare, the leader of the anti-corruption movement who leaves jail today and is expected to lead a hunger strike, but it caused me to think of Tom Sherwood and the inspiring story that he did last week about another Gandhi. Here's a clip.
MR. NATWAR GANDHII told you then that our people were not ready for freedom. You wanted to separate religion from politics. It is not possible in India. It wasn't possible then. It is not possible now.
NNAMDIOkay, Tom. I'm confused. Was that Mahatma Gandhi we just listened to?
MR. TOM SHERWOODThat was...
NNAMDIIt certainly was his words.
SHERWOODThat was Nat channeling Mat.
SHERWOODNat Gandhi, he -- you know, the bean counter he likes to call himself. You know, he studied for apparently some months to do two shows playing Mahatma Gandhi, and he was, you know, he says he's from the same region, and this was, of course, like the 60-something-th anniversary of the petition of India and Pakistan, which Gandhi did not want. I mean, so they did this play out of the Rockville Jewish Community Center, and Gandhi did it pretty well.
NNAMDIAnd where did you get the sitar music with which you juiced up your own report?
SHERWOODI would say I didn't juice it up. I don't -- I can't recall the last time I juiced up a story. I'm not saying that I haven't.
NNAMDIWith which you...
SHERWOODI can't recall the last...
NNAMDIWith which you enhanced your...
SHERWOODI believe, you know, it's something they call recordings. You know, it's, you know, they're actually called recorded music. And I believe it was being played at the rehearsal.
NNAMDIThat's what I told our producer of the show.
SHERWOODWere they suggesting...
SHERWOOD...we imported it?
NNAMDII thought they were suggesting that you somehow tried to, well, juice up the show.
SHERWOODWell, you've tried to juice up your show with all this music you play. I'm glad to see you getting more local bands and where the band members are actually alive.
NNAMDIThat's why this show has juice, baby. And then, of course, I should tell you that Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. But then, there were these words uttered on the show a few weeks ago by Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten.
MR. RON MOTENI'm so happy that Yvette Alexander asked for an audit of my organization because she did me a benefit because I believe when it comes out, it will show that no money was misappropriated. The books were, you know, good. We did the work. We didn't take $120,000 that was for the needy and spend it on things that it was not designated for.
SHERWOODWho's doing that audit, D.C. auditor?
MOTEND.C. auditor. It's been going on for a long time, and I believe we will have a draft next week, which we will put out in the public immediately because we know that there's nothing that we've done that's illegal and that we had over 70 people employed, the majority of them returning citizens. We have over 161 children in college. We did 29 truces. And let me go back.
NNAMDIAnd the auditor is going to say all of that.
MOTENWell, the audit will say a lot of it.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood, what Ron Moten said was no money was appropriated.
NNAMDINo money was -- no. In his...
NNAMDI...comments, he said no money was, I guess, misappropriated. Books were good. Is that what auditor Yolanda Branche said?
SHERWOODYou know, the auditor -- well, the worst-case scenario was, you know, it didn't happen. So the audit didn't accuse him of criminal wrongdoing or refer to the U.S. attorney or any of that kind of stuff. The audit did show that in the $13 million or so -- $13.5 million that Peaceoholics got over the four- to five-year period that the accounting of the money was not as good as it should have been, and that they couldn't account for all of the money. But there was still criminality, and I think that's a good thing for the Peaceoholitans.
NNAMDIWell, is that the new gold standard for...
NNAMDI...D.C. politicians' elect me because I didn't steal?
SHERWOODI think it will still be a talking point for Yvette Alexander, not Alexandria, but as he called her. I think that's a place in Virginia somewhere. But I think it will be a campaign issue. She will talk about the money he has spent for the Peaceoholics, and he'll talk about her constituent service fund issues. Both of whom were not knocked out by the report but showed that they were not doing well with bookkeeping.
NNAMDIAnd in both cases, they will be able to say no funds were misappropriated.
SHERWOODWell, we haven't been referred to the U.S. attorney. I think that's the new standard.
NNAMDIWell, before we come back to the District of Columbia, let's talk Virginia politics for a second, more specifically Fairfax politics, because it seems that this year's marquee event in Fairfax politics is going to be the race for the school board, not the race for the board of supervisors because as it turned out half of the 12 members of the school board will be stepping down when their terms end Dec. 31. And there has been -- or there has been such a variety of controversial issues in Fairfax County schools that it seems as if that's the race to watch.
SHERWOODWell, that was the story they post in some of the community readings and newsletters in northern Virginia and Fairfax. It is -- the schools are, you know, there's one guy, who's running, is running because his son committed suicide.
SHERWOODThat's right. That's a big issue. There had been issues about charging students for fees to play sports, whether the school year started later in the morning, so the school days can start later in the day so kids can sleep. I only wish that had happened when I went to school. And there's certainly lots of issues, so growing pains. Fairfax, Montgomery County, the big school systems and they have a lot of issues. And now that these people are not running again, it opens up the door for lots of new voices.
NNAMDIAnd on Monday, on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," we'll be looking some more at Virginia politics. You may want to tune in then. But everybody knows that the foster child for school reform in the nation would be a child going to District of Columbia Public Schools. Is that not right?
NNAMDIAnd so joining us in studio right now is Kaya Henderson, chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools. Kaya Henderson, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. KAYA HENDERSONThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIBefore we pursue your social life, I guess we should talk about the schools. This is the...
NNAMDIThis is the first time you have started a school year as chancellor. You moved up to the top job last year when Michelle Reed decided to walk away from it. What are your priorities going into this term?
HENDERSONWell, I'm excited about this school year, Kojo. First of all, we're sending our children into modernized facilities. We have a brand-new H.D. Woodson built from the ground up that is state-of-the-art of the STEM.
SHERWOODI was there at that groundbreaking. I didn't get the chance to talk to you. You're up there with all the muckety-mucks in the front row. I was in the back. But people are really excited about that school particularly.
HENDERSONAnd to watch four or 500 people in the community come out just for the ribbon cutting. If we have that kind of community support consistently throughout the school year, our kids will be great. We have the new Wilson, we have...
NNAMDIBut before you go past Woodson...
NNAMDI...I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers game last night and the quarterback, the winning quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Philadelphia Eagles was Byron Leftwich.
NNAMDIYou know where he went to school?
NNAMDIWhere would that be?
NNAMDIWhat's a nice school.
SHERWOODReally? How did -- did they say that on television?
NNAMDIThey don't say that on television...
SHERWOODHow did you know it?
NNAMDI...that's why we have to say it here.
SHERWOODHow did you know it?
NNAMDIBecause I've been following Byron Leftwich's career ever since...
SHERWOODYour Michael Martinez, your fine staff looked it up.
NNAMDIEver since he was at Woodson and playing quarterback or some other position and threw a ball back into the huddle, the coach saw him throw that ball and said, you should be playing quarterback. And that's what he's been doing ever since.
SHERWOODThe facilities are great at all the schools. I mean, athletic facilities are Olympics quality, the facilities. Are you prepared to say now that the academic instruction is getting there?
HENDERSONThat is the challenge. We have - we are bound and determined to ensure that the level of academic instruction meets the beauty and state-of-the-artiness of the buildings, absolutely.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number if you'd like to join this Politics Hour conversation with Kaya Henderson. She is chancellor for the District of Columbia Public Schools. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIWhere would you say that your priorities this year, in addition to the opening of new schools, fit into the arc of reforms put in place by Michelle Rhee when she took over the system four years ago?
HENDERSONWell, Kojo, when we go to D.C. public schools in 2007, there was a lot of stuff that needed to be fixed. We didn't have appropriate data systems to give us the information that we needed to make good decisions. We've spent four years working on that. We didn't have clear expectations for what our people were doing.
HENDERSONAnd as you know, we have been at the forefront of the teacher evaluation movement in this country. We've gotten now a lot of the people and systems in place to be successful. Now, the revolution is in the classroom. We have to make sure that our teachers and our students have the resources and support that they need.
HENDERSONWe have to raise the academic rigor of what we're acquiring of our students, and we're doing that with the new curriculum. We have incredible professional development for our teachers so that they can be successful. But we really have to now focus on what's going on deep in the classroom.
NNAMDIAnd that's what you describe as the hard, non-sexy work?
HENDERSONAbsolutely. This is the...
NNAMDIImplying that the previous work was somehow sexy?
HENDERSONWell, you know, that's the kind of stuff that sells newspaper articles. And the work that we are doing is not the stuff that, you know, people are going to be able to see and touch. When I talk about curriculum, John Q. Public doesn't understand what that means, but my teachers have a very clear sense. They asked for it. We delivered.
HENDERSONWe are out in front of most of the school districts in the country. I'm moving forward with the common course standards, and so there's a new energy and excitement and a sense of possibility about what can happen.
SHERWOODEvery year, a certain number of teachers come or go. They either -- they marry. They move away. They get different jobs. They just decide to do something different. This year, there were some turmoil at the end of last year about jobs, and people were being dismissed because of they're not qualified or not getting a certification. How do we stand -- are the classrooms staffed for next Monday?
HENDERSONThe classrooms are staffed and ready to go for next Monday. As you know, life happens, and even in the first couple of weeks of school, we'll get people who don't show up or, you know, make a different choice, and we have back ups in place so that we should not have any classroom on Monday or in the first weeks of school that doesn't have a qualified adult.
SHERWOODI know you want to talk about folks, you know, in academic because if all -- you had to set the table in order to get to the academics, right? But Bill Turque from the Post this morning has a very...
NNAMDITerrible Turque, baby.
SHERWOODI'd like to call him Torque 'cause he gets and wrenches things up, you know?
NNAMDIHere, he's known as Terrible Turque. Go ahead.
SHERWOODHe wrote a good story about how the system of the Gray administration -- I don't know if the money is coming from the Gray administration or the schools -- is hiring the Illinois Facilities Fund to review all the schools and the charter schools. And the story suggests -- Bill does -- that we still have a lot of underutilized schools. He says there are 40 schools that have fewer than 300 students, so you might still have some -- some turmoil and if you had to close more schools. What would this Illinois Facilities Fund tell you?
NNAMDIIn addition, there was the Illinois Facilities Fund is it has ties to the charter school movement.
SHERWOODRight. It sounds like for the first time, every year, treating the school system as one system.
HENDERSONAbsolutely. And I think that it's time to change the conversation away from DCPS versus charters to how do we ensure a high quality school in every single neighborhood regardless of what type of system it's in. Parents don't actually care whether their school is a charter school or a DCPS school. They care whether or not it's a high quality school. What the Illinois Facilities Fund is going to do is take a look at us compared to other school districts and say how many schools do we need?
HENDERSONHow many seats do we need, in what neighborhoods? While we have been very generous in the proliferation of charter schools, hasn't been done in a planful (sic) way. So we still have neighborhoods that don't have good options, and in some neighborhoods we have an overabundance of good options. And so the facilities fund will help us figure out how to rightsize the District -- the District, the city.
SHERWOODYou want rightsizing. Rightsize means close some schools.
HENDERSONWell, you know, we...
SHERWOODMaybe open some new ones?
HENDERSONListen, it might mean opening some new ones. It might mean closing some old ones. But we have to be willing to be courageous and do what's right because we're wasting money. We're wasting money, and that's money that we should be plowing into classrooms.
SHERWOODI'm surprised to the story -- this is the last time I'll promote Bill Turque, at least today. The story says this Illinois Facilities Fund will report by mid-October. I mean, that's pretty fast to look at 120 public schools or, what, 99 campuses for the charter schools. That's a lot of stuff to look at.
HENDERSONYes, they've been working -- this work is coming out of the Deputy Mayor for Education's office, and they've been working for some months. But...
SHERWOODOkay. Good. Right.
HENDERSON...we've asked. We, you know, I think the timing was such that if there are any big decisions that need to be made, we need to make them early so that we can inform parents about what options there are for next year. And if they want to enter any lotteries or, you know, do early enrollment that they have all of the appropriate information.
NNAMDIKaya Henderson is chancellor for District of Columbia Public Schools. She joins us in studio with Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. If you have questions or comments for Kaya Henderson, call us at 800-433-8850. So much of this reform effort is about narrowing the achievement gap between affluent and white students on the one hand and low income and minority students on the other hand.
NNAMDIBut according to the standardized test scores released this summer, that huge achievement gap still exists in the city. What concerns do you have about you learn from those standardized exams?
HENDERSONWell, I'm very concerned about what I've learned from the standardized exams. I think they remind us that we're not meeting the mark, that we're not meeting the mark across the board, but, specifically, that we're not meeting the mark for our most vulnerable kids.
HENDERSONAgain, when I came into this role, teachers said to me, we don't have a curriculum. We don't have a clear focus on what it is we're teaching. And so, we're shooting for these tests. We have a general idea with the standards about what the tests are actually testing.
HENDERSONAnd for the record, I'm not against standardized test. We need some kind of a measure or a marker to help us understand our progress. But if we don't -- if we aren't providing what the teachers -- providing to teachers the tools that they need to be able to meet the demands of the test, then we have to double down and do something differently, and that's what we're doing at DCPS.
SHERWOODI want to go back to athletic for a moment 'cause start of the school year also means -- as I was walking in here, I saw a young man wearing his Wilson football uniform going over to practice to one of those really super cool football fields.
SHERWOODSo -- but Dave McKenna of the Washington City Paper reported this week that you still don't have an athletic director, that for all of the importance of the school athletics, there have been four in four years, and that there's just a lot of turmoil in that area. Do you have a sense of when you'll have an athletic director?
HENDERSONSo we have an interim athletic director who's in place to ensure that our fall sports are going well. We had 65 applicants for the athletic director position, which closed just last week. And we'll begin interviews. We've done phone interviews already. We'll begin in-person interviews next Friday.
SHERWOODThis is not -- it's an important position 'cause every school has an athletic program, which is an integral part of the school system. And then there are after school programs and all that other...
HENDERSONAbsolutely. I mean...
SHERWOODAgain, all those in place, which makes the school more of the community.
HENDERSONThat's right. I mean, for some of our students, athletics is the only reason that kids come to school. Athletics is the only reason that they keep their grade point average up. And we need to be able to speak to those kids and provide them with opportunities to -- like Byron Leftwich. And we can do that. I think that, you know, I've often told folks, kid's talent as -- is as important as their test scores. And we have to make sure that we have the appropriate systems, including athletics, in place.
NNAMDII'd like to go to the telephones. Please don your headphones, please. We will start with Patricia in Northeast Washington. Patricia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATRICIAYes. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to make a comment. Chancellor Henderson had indicated that most parents really don't care whether their kids go to a charter school or a public school. They just want a good school in their neighborhood. And I would beg to differ. I'm a social worker, and I work with families in the District of Columbia. And all too often, many parents, I've heard them say, well, you know, I don't want my kid going to D.C. Public School. I want them to go a charter school.
PATRICIAThey are under the false impression that charter schools are better than the D.C. Public Schools 'cause the D.C. Public Schools has taken such a bad rep, you know, that this is the impressions they've got from the media and a lot of things that have happened. And the other thing is I wanted to know how I can get in touch with you because I had issue that I needed to bring to your attention.
HENDERSONSure. So, Patricia, I actually think that you and I are saying the same thing. The reason why some families believe that charters are better is because their quest is not necessarily for one school or another, but for the best schools. And because we have a bad reputation, people prefer or, you know, are looking at the end of the day for quality, not for charter, for charter's sake.
HENDERSONIf you want to get in touch with me, it's very easy. Shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. And I answer all my own emails, and so you should feel free to email me.
NNAMDIAnd, Patricia, what we're also going to do is to take down your information off-air and pass it on to the school's chancellor as she leaves the building. Do you get a lot of emails from single guys asking for dates?
NNAMDIYou know, you're giving out your email address publicly. We've explored Tom Sherwood's personal life, also that of Elissa Silverman. We thought we'd explore...
SHERWOODAnd I was about to defend the media, but not creating controversies. You know what, the caller just said that, you know, that the -- it makes bad news. Well, you know, the stories were bad news, because there was bad news in the school system. And I think that's the legacy of Michelle Rhee. And you were her deputy for the -- almost the entire time or the entire time?
HENDERSONOh, the entire time.
SHERWOODThe entire time. And there was great fear in many parts of the city, particularly in white communities, that when Vince Gray became mayor, he was going to ratchet back on a school reform. And I think we can say -- and I invite you to say that he's done the opposite. He was...
HENDERSONMayor Gray has been absolutely phenomenal. His commitment to school reform, to education in general, has been -- I think has exceeded all of our expectations. He meets with me weekly. There's no other agency director that meets with the mayor directly besides me, because this is his passion. This is his commitment. He's provided me with everything that I need to be successful. And I could not ask for a better one.
SHERWOODI mean, there are many things I -- if I want to be more critical with the mayor on several issues, but I think that's important in this issue, which was such as big issue in the Ward 3, a lopsided win for Adrian Fenty, although he lost the race, was what's going to happen to the schools? We don't want to lose Michelle Rhee.
SHERWOODAnd many -- she hadn't lost the...
HENDERSONWell, we have an obligation...
HENDERSON...to all of our communities. You know, we are as beholden to our parents and families in Ward 3 as we are to our parents and families in Ward 8. They need different things, but we have to be responsive to everybody.
NNAMDIHere is Matthew in Alexandria, Va. Matthew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHEWYes, Ms. Henderson. I'm a teacher in Virginia, and I hear a lot of the conversations that are taking place in Virginia are the same that you're having in the District. Recently, I read an interesting statistic. It said an average student spend about 900 hours in a classroom and about 7,800 hours at home. What's being addressed -- or what's being done to address the needs of students outside of the classroom to meet their needs so that when they come into school that they're ready for learning?
HENDERSONWell, Matthew, I'm sure you know that in many of our schools, we provide our students with meals to ensure that they are ready.
HENDERSONThree meals. We serve breakfast, lunch and supper. We provide our students with many of the mental health and emotional supports that they need, even though our major mission is around education. We've actually partnered one of the major benefits of DCPS becoming a city agency means that we have the opportunity to work with the agencies to better support our students. So, for example, through our partnership with the Department of Health, we have school nurses in every single building.
HENDERSONThat previously was not the case. Those nurses are helping us with vision screenings and dental screenings and hearing screenings so that our children are physically fit and ready. We're also working with our community organizations. One of the great examples of some work that we've done this summer to target some of our truant students is with the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.
HENDERSONAnd some of the family collaboratives that are in the city. We've been working the Far Southeast Collaborative to go out and do home visits on some of our truant students. What we're finding, of course, is that truant students are truant for a reason, and we're getting them there.
SHERWOODThe parents are truant.
NNAMDISpeaking of home visits, Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews, who is not Terrible Turque, wrote yesterday about whether it's a good idea for teachers to visit students in their homes. It's a subject that apparently splits a lot of people in the education community. What's your own feeling about the matter?
HENDERSONSo I feel like, you know, everybody's got to do what they are most comfortable doing. We would never ask anybody to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. But what we know for sure is that parents and teachers, when they can connect, when they have a shared commitment to their students, our students are more successful. And we have a number of teachers. We have a number of community organizations that partner with us to do these home visits.
HENDERSONWe don't want our teachers, you know, to feel threatened or alone or whatever, but Anacostia is a great example where they've partnered with some of the community churches to go out and do neighborhood home visits with teachers.
NNAMDIOn to Jeffrey in Adams Morgan. Jeffrey, your turn.
JEFFREYHi, thanks for the show. I really appreciate it. I was interested in your plans this year for fresh food in the school. We were hoping to get a -- an actual cook -- cooking kitchen at cook school that was modernized in 2009 as part of the fresh cook program, and it didn't happen. And I'm just wondering if Jeff Mills is going to be doing some more schools either satellite program or actually in school fresh-cook?
NNAMDIJeffrey, thank you for your call.
HENDERSONWe have actually been very aggressive in our quest to provide healthy school -- healthy food in our schools in part thanks to the council because of the Healthy Schools Act. But we've built six new kitchens in a number of our schools. We are continuing to challenge our food vendors to provide healthy meals for our food -- for our schools.
HENDERSONNext week, I read somewhere that the -- one of the opening day menu is barbecue, roasted chicken with whole wheat rolls, baked beans and collard greens and locally grown nectarines. So we have 27 salad bars opening in our school this year.
NNAMDIStop drooling, Tom. Stop drooling.
SHERWOODI'm not drooling.
HENDERSONWe're tackling the food issue straight on.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Back to academics for a second. It's not exactly a secret that Michelle Rhee left a lot of enemies here. People who would like to point at the most recent round of test scores as evidence that the approach which she championed is not working. How would you respond to that?
HENDERSONWell, I think that if we thought that everything would be fixed in two years or four years or whatever, we were fooling ourselves. I think -- when I think about the trajectory of DCPS, as I said, we have to do some things to lay a foundation. We'll continue to build on those things. I'm not going to fix the system in 50 minutes either. It might be the person after me or the person after that.
HENDERSONBut the important thing is that we have been able to pivot the District from laggard to leader to create a sense of possibility for parents and students and families here in the District. The Washington Post poll, which showed that parents are overwhelmingly more impressed with, more supportive of, what they are seeing in D.C. Public Schools, did my heart well. Our enrollment is up for the first time in 41 years. And so, while we're not where we need to be, I think we're well on the road.
NNAMDIHere is Delabian in Washington, D.C., who would -- I would assume is Delabian Rice-Thurston, former of the Parents for -- Parents United for D.C. Public Schools. Delabian.
DELABIANHello. Ms. Henderson, I would please request that you promote the quality that you have in your school system. Michelle Rhee was excellent at talking about what was wrong, but there were times that you had more National Merit Semifinalists in the public traditional schools than in some of the private schools. And there has been no charter school yet, because I follow this stuff, that it has -- that has had National Merit Semifinalists.
DELABIANThe parents who are not trusting your traditional public schools and are going to charters need to know that there is high quality in traditional public schools. And it's only you who can get that kind of word out.
NNAMDIDelabian, before she responds to that, and thank you for your call, allow me to go to Rachel in Northwest who has a question, I think, along similar lines. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELHi, Kaya. Good morning. I'm a former central office employee, worked in the Office of Special Education. It was a pleasure working both with you and Michelle. My main question, though, is that with the focus of the mayor wanting to bring so many special education students back from nonpublic schools into DCPS, how are you insuring that the supports are going to be in the schools to make sure that all needs are being met for those students?
NNAMDIWell, that's a slightly different question. But go ahead. She can answer both, one after the other.
HENDERSONSo first, I want to say, Delabian, thank you so much. You are absolutely right. We have great things going on in DCPS. We have not promoted them as well as we could. And we are -- we just revamped our Office of Communications. And you will hear more and more good stories about the great things happening in our school, so point well taken, and, please, help us. When you know things that are going on that you think we should promote, please, let us know.
NNAMDINow, Rachel's question about bringing formal special needs students into D.C. Public Schools in the support system, that exists or does not?
HENDERSONSo first, I want to be clear that the mayor is not just trying to bring students back. We have an obligation to ensure that we can serve our students as close to home as possible. For years and years, we neglected to build the capacity in the system to be able to do that. And the mayor has challenged the state superintendent and I to fix that. We will do that. We've been able to provide some robust programs.
HENDERSONWe have some of the best autism programs in the region, so much so that I have parents who previously were considering private schools who are now competing to get into our autism programs. As we're able to save money on transportation and save money on tuitions, we can actually build more robust programs in our schools, and that's what we intend to do.
SHERWOODThe special ed transportation budget is nearly $100 million. It's a huge amount of money.
HENDERSONThat I could do a lot of other things with.
SHERWOODAnd people have talked for many years that, well, if we have quality special ed classes, and that means mainstreaming and maybe special schools if you need both, that the city would not only do better but would have spent less money.
NNAMDIMore than 200 teachers were let go for poor performance this summer. Critics of the IMPACT evaluation system that the city uses says it's unfair to teachers and more challenging low-income environments, and when you look at all the data from test scores to classroom evaluations, what do you see?
HENDERSONWell, Kojo, I mean, we know that our greatest challenges are in Wards 7 and 8, some of our more difficult communities, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to hold teachers to a different standard. If I water down the standard, then what am I saying to those students? What IMPACT does is three things. One, it allows us to recognize and reward our highest performing teachers. And on Sept. 19, we'll be at the Kennedy Center with John Legend.
NNAMDIIs this an advertisement?
HENDERSONNo, it's not an advertisement.
NNAMDIYou mentioned John Legend. It sounds like an advertisement to me.
HENDERSONJohn Legend at a standing ovation for D.C. teachers. IMPACT also allows us to develop our teachers. And so we know where they are struggling. And 60 percent of the folks who were rated minimally-effective have actually moved into the effective or highly-effective category because of good professional development.
HENDERSONAnd then, finally, in any system, there are going to be people who can't meet the standard, and we move those out. I have 4,100 teachers, and it's not inconceivable that 200 people aren't making the grade after significant professional development.
NNAMDINed in Washington, I think, has a question about that. Ned, your turn. Go ahead, please.
NEDHi. I really want to applaud Kaya Henderson. I went to the Bell-Lincoln meeting when...
NNAMDIDamn. Got it wrong again.
NED...(unintelligible) solutions, and she did a wonderful job. I do have a question about the human resources where teachers are not able to have an audience with, like, Youngblood or (word?).
NNAMDIWho are those individuals?
NEDThey are with the Labor and Management Employee Relations Group.
NEDYoungblood is director of human resources. But when you get a letter that says, without audience, due to multiple complaints from school staff about concerns regarding your performance, you're let go without being able to speak with them after there was a seven-week investigation.
NEDI've worked in the school system as a substitute for years, and I was offered a couple of permanent positions. But when I evicted a kid after reaching a triple-tier profanity, there was an incident that went on and I was never able to report. So I'm worried about that.
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have Kaya Henderson respond, Ned.
HENDERSONNed, why don't you reach out to me? And I'll make sure that you can get to meet with appropriate people.
NNAMDICan you give out your email address again?
HENDERSONAnd, Ned, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Vernon in Ward 7. Vernon, your turn.
VERNONYes, good morning, both of you -- oh, good afternoon. I attended the Woodson grand opening, and I was overall impressed by the building itself, but I noticed some French classes, but I didn't notice any Spanish classes. And the library appeared to be small. And I wanted to know...
NNAMDIQue pasa, Kaya Henderson, that's what he wants to know. Right, Vernon?
VERNONYes. Oh, what did you say?
NNAMDIQue pasa? What's going on?
VERNONYes. I attended the grand opening. I wanted to know of Spanish offerings in the schools, at Woodson and the other public schools.
NNAMDIHere's Kaya Henderson.
HENDERSONAs a former Spanish teacher, this is near and dear to my heart. Of course, we offer Spanish. We'll offer Spanish at Woodson and at the vast majority of our high schools, absolutely. I will say that, you know, if we are preparing kids for a global economy, it means that they need to be able to speak a variety of languages and that is important.
SHERWOODAnd Spanish is the number two language in our community. Actually, with my Southern tongue, slow Southern tongue, I've tried to learn Spanish. And I once had a college professor just motioned me to the front. She said, this class is not for you. So -- but I was in that library at Woodson. It was a very -- I was surprised that Woodson library was pretty small.
SHERWOODI think the librarian, they were saying they are going to have computer, mobile computers there's so students can sit by the window and not just be stuck at the old-style desk.
HENDERSONAbsolutely. I think what we conceive off as a library is very different nowadays. Kids don't have to go to one place to access books. Information is dynamic and digital. They can be in classrooms. You don't have to go and have 100 people sitting in a place. But on a library front, I want to mention Target. Target has been an awesome partner. They refurbished eight of our libraries, eight brand-new libraries in D.C. Public Schools, and I want to shout Target out.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. You know, a lot of people felt that the media had an excessive concern with Michelle Rhee's personal life when she was the superintendent.
SHERWOODHere we are again with the personal life.
NNAMDIBut whether she would get...
HENDERSONWhat would you like to know, Kojo?
NNAMDIWell, are you dating? Are you -- have you any plans? What's going on?
HENDERSONI have a partner. We live together. He has two children who spend the majority of their time with us. They're both D.C. Public Schools students. One is a 5-year-old who will be in kindergarten this year. The other is a 15-year-old who will be in the 10th grade. And...
SHERWOODAnd don't say where.
HENDERSONI'm not saying where. And I'm thrilled because it gives me an opportunity on a day-to-day basis to see whether or not we're meeting the mark.
NNAMDIWhat do you say now, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI would say, thank you very much, Chancellor, for coming and I apologize for the intrusive, incessant and repetitive effort to talk about your personal life.
NNAMDIInquiring minds want to know. Thank you so much for joining us.
HENDERSONThank you both.
NNAMDIYou're listening to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, I've just been informed that both Gov. O'Malley of Maryland, Democrat, and Gov. McDonnell of Virginia, Republican, have been invited to appear Sunday morning on CNN's "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, Gov. McDonnell, who's now head of the Republican Governors Association, Gov. O'Malley, his Democratic Governors Association counterpart, and Gov. McDonnell says he wouldn't mind being offered for vice president of the United States. They had a kind of pact where they wouldn't criticize each other. But now that they're leading rival organizations, I guess that pact is going to have to go away.
SHERWOODWell, you know, both of them are very good representatives of their parties. They both are experienced governors, both in -- I would only hope whatever national politics they have to play on the two sides, as we bat the ball back and forth on the political net for 2012, I would hope that they keep working together, and including the city, in the Chesapeake Bay and, you know, in the pollution in that area.
SHERWOODSo I'm glad they're going to be on national TV. I hope they get their hair parted correctly, and they sit up straight and all of those good things, and they fight over the national economics. Bu, you know, there's a lot in common between Maryland and Virginia. I'd like to see them work together, and they say there are. We'll see if they can survive the politics of 2012.
NNAMDIThe District is about to step into the world wide spotlight when it begins the festivities to officially open the new Martin Luther King Memorial on the Tidal Basin. It's going to be a place that means a lot of things to a lot of different people. It's going to have particular meaning for Frank Smith. He's a former member of the D.C. council, a Democrat who represented Ward 1 from '82 until '98.
NNAMDIHe's now the director, also the founder, of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum. He joins us in studio. Full disclosure, Frank Smith was an early mentor of mine when I came to the District a few years ago...
SHERWOODBut you left out the part where he was actively involved in the tough civil rights day of the South.
NNAMDIWell, that's what...
SHERWOODYou just mentioned he was a council member. That wasn't that tough.
NNAMDIThat's what the questions are going to be all about.
SHERWOODWell, you've said -- okay.
NNAMDIFrank Smith, good to see you.
SHERWOODHe was a mentor of yours?
NNAMDIYes, when I first came to city.
MR. FRANK SMITHYou left that part...
SHERWOODThat shows you're...
SMITHYou left that part. I was born in Newnan, Ga., and I know Tom Sherwood was born down there somewhere.
SHERWOODNot Newnan. I was born in a metropolis called Atlanta, where rural people were...
NNAMDIWell, that's where Frank Smith went to school...
SHERWOODYou know, without it -- it's what I'd like to say, without it, Atlanta, Ga., would be Alabama.
SMITHWell, let me just say that we had running water (unintelligible) Newnan when they were still living in caves in Atlanta. So try that on for size...
NNAMDIThank you very much. And Frank is a Morehouse man, so he's contained in Atlanta.
SHERWOODMorehouse is a good part.
NNAMDIAs somebody who has put so much energy into celebrating African-American history and civil rights history, including your own participation as a member of the student non-violent coordinating committee or SNCC, what is this going to mean to you?
SMITHWell, you know, I was here in 1963, marching in Washington, and I was one of those people that Dr. King referred to as one of those person who just come -- who was fresh from a Mississippi jail, 'cause I've been in jail with Stokely Carmichael and a few other people. And, by the way, while I was in jail, I got my draft notice to go to Vietnam. So, although we were civil rights workers who couldn't register to vote, we still had to do our duty to our country. We had to serve our country, pay our taxes and do various other things.
SMITHSo, for me, when we unveil that monument on the 28th, it'll be a great tribute, actually, to Dr. King who towered over the civil rights movement and to a country that has struggled with this issue of slavery and then discrimination and sort of saw it like a way of putting, for me, you might say putting the end to a story. A story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end.
SMITHA nice way to putting the end to this story is to know that we've got Barack Obama, president of the United States, in the White House and to know that now we're going to unveil a monument for Dr. King.
SHERWOODHave you been down yet to the memorial?
SMITHI have not been there.
SHERWOODYou haven't been at all.
SMITHI have not.
SHERWOODI'm going to go this afternoon and do a little story about it.
SMITHI'm waiting on my one opportunity when this thing opens up. I'll just probably stand there and shed a tear. So I'm waiting on Sunday.
SHERWOODWell, you know, they were saying it's not really near Metro station. So many people are expected, and maybe President Carter is going to come also from -- and the former president who's from Georgia. There's going to be such a crowd that people ought to plan to walk. And when people started grumbling about it, Mayor Gray said at the press conference, look, people marched for civil rights. They can march to this dedication. So you'll be marching down as best as you can.
SMITHAbsolutely. Well, you know, I can still march, you know, about a mile or two. I'm tough. I went out running this morning at Banneker Field, so I can -- getting in shape. I'm ready for this. But listen, as (unintelligible) once says, my foots may be tired but my soul will be rested.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, if you'd like to join this conversation with Frank Smith. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. This has become your home over the past 40-something years. It's my understanding that you actually thought about leaving the District and moving back to Mississippi during the riots that broke out here in 1968 after Dr. King was murdered. What ultimately kept you here in the District?
SMITHWell, you know, Kojo, I moved here in January of 1968. I came here. My wife, at the time, wanted to finish medical school at Howard, and I had to finish school myself and I was here. So Dr. King was killed in early April. And I got to say, I had never seen anything like this before. I've been in Mississippi. I've been in a few cases where I had been tear-gassed. I've been in some mass marches. I've been in some mass jailings. I've seen a lot of crazy things in my life.
SMITHBut I've never seen anything like people setting -- torching, really, their neighborhoods where they lived in and without a plan and without a clear purpose and without any means toward an end. And it was frightening for me and frightening for everybody I knew. And I watched this with great sorrow. And I must say, not only did I stay in Washington, but I have dedicated a large part of my life to trying to develop those neighborhoods that were torn up by that riot in the (unintelligible) U Street by then.
SHERWOODWell, and one of those is, of course, 14th and U, which is now gentrified.
NNAMDIA destination, yes.
SHERWOODH Street, a major economic corridor for the African-American community in the '60s, burned, now back as a gentrifying neighborhood. And there's a lot of concerns about -- the good part of gentrifying is that people bring in money, there's jobs, there's opportunity. The bad part is a lot of people get pushed out. As you see the history of the civil rights sweep of the city itself, what's your own thoughts about that as you see the neighborhoods, even where the African American Memorial is at Vermont and U Street?
SMITHWell, first of all, let me just say we welcome all the new neighbors who want to come in there, people who are willing to risk their money and try to put up their money and try to help reclaim some of these neighborhoods that were in bad shape. When I moved in to LeDroit Park 15 or 20 years ago, there were drugs on every corner almost, and now we got the neighborhood turned around.
SMITHSo I'm happy to be on a neighborhood where I can leave my car outside without worrying about it getting -- and come home without worrying about somebody breaking in my house. So don't get me wrong about this, Tom Sherwood. I'm glad to see some of the changes that's taking place over there. And I'm happy that it took place. If it hadn't happened, I might not have been able to stay there myself. So I'm happy about that.
SMITHI did expect this government would do more to try to protect people on some tax issues and try to do more to protect some of the people who were being displaced. But the reality of life is at that we needed some more income. We needed some more people in there to make this thing right. And I'm not afraid of gentrification. I'm not afraid of immigration. Remember, Tom, I spent most of my life fighting for immigration, and I'm not going to get old now and decide it's not good for us.
SMITHThe fact of the matter is, when President Obama got elected president of the United States, there were only 18 million black people registered to vote in America. He needed 66 million votes to get elected. And if all of the black people who lived in Chicago could vote three times, as they often do in Chicago, McCain still would've beaten us.
SMITHSo we got to find a way to reach provinces out and talk -- find people that we can work with and talk to and -- well-meaning people, which there are many, and that's what we've got to do to get elected. That's what we've got to do to get along here in America.
NNAMDIYou invested a lot of yourself in the civil rights movement. You were, as I mentioned earlier, part of SNCC, and SNCC was not necessarily...
SHERWOODStudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
NNAMDI...Coordinating Committee, nicknamed SNCC, was not necessarily always on the same page with Martin Luther King. A group of people that include a lot of people who wanted to see Dr. King push harder in the civil rights movement. Where did you see him fitting into the movement at that time? And how do you see him fitting into the movement now in hindsight?
SMITHWell, you know what? Let me answer that in two ways. First of all, I'm going to say, I saw Dr. King the day before he was killed. I was -- I had moved to Washington, as I said earlier, but I was still working in Mississippi. So I was on my back down there. I happened to be at the airport in Memphis, and he came across the aisle. I didn't even know if he would recognize me because, you know, I was not that high up on the totem pole. I was -- he had won a Nobel Prize by then, was famous all over the world.
SMITHAnd -- but he called my name, Smith. He didn't remember my first name, but he says, Smith, I want to talk to you. I came across. And he asked me about coming to Memphis to help him organize what he called the young panthers that were throwing rocks and were causing the police to get violent. So, right there, you can understand the difference between SNCC and SCLC.
SMITHDr. King was -- represented an older generation of people. They always thought we had greater contact with the younger community because we were younger. And we were so young and brash that we didn't want to be part of his whole organization so...
SHERWOODYou all were starting to publicly grouse about him by being too...
SHERWOOD...slow, old, slow-walking preacher.
SMITHAbsolutely, he was. But now, on the other hand, he was much more active and much more aggressive than NAACP and others. Let me say something else about Dr. King. The fact of the matter is those of us who were in the Deep South knew that anybody who stayed in the South all the same time that Dr. King did, with the high profile like he had, risked his life every single day.
SMITHThis man had his house bombed and all that stuff happening. I mean, and one thing the civil rights workers recognized was that we put our lives on the line all the time. But we knew other people who did, too, and we respected the other people who put their lives on the line. And there was no way you can hide. And very often, we did have to push and prod and, you know, call and beg him to get out there, and with the Freedom Rides, he just absolutely refused to get on that bus.
SMITHBut the fact of the matter is that he was a target. His life was out there, and he was a brave and courageous man. I think that's why people trusted him. He was brave. He was courageous. He was like Harriet Tubman. He went in and out of these danger zones all the time, leading his people, and there was no way for him to hide.
SMITHHe couldn't. He couldn't disappear into the shadows because he was such a high profile. Everybody always knew who he was and where he was, so he's lived with danger every day. And he deserves all the accolades he's going to get for the next two or three weeks and forever once his monument is up on that mall.
NNAMDIHere's Bridgette in Lusby, Md. Bridgette, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIDGETTECan you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can Bridgette.
BRIDGETTE'Cause I'm driving. I just wanted to congratulate Councilmember Smith for his African American Civil War Memorial. (unintelligible) it has to be over 20 years ago when he first started talking about that when he was on the council and I was working on the council.
NNAMDIWell, who Bridgette this is then?
SMITHIs this the Bridgette from Councilman Wilson's office?
BRIDGETTEIt is. It is.
BRIDGETTEYou know, and now, I'm on my way to Southern Maryland, so I'm afraid I might lose you all, so I'll be quick. But I just wanted to congratulate you because, you know, it was -- I hate to say -- pie in the sky at that point when you first started talking about it. But now it's for real.
SMITHWell, thank you. Yeah?
BRIDGETTEI just think you did a great job.
SHERWOODIs that Bridgette Quinn calling us?
SMITHOf course, it's Bridgette.
SHERWOODLook, you're supposed to email me.
BRIDGETTEYeah, it's Bridgette. Hi, Tom.
SHERWOODHey, you were supposed to email me six months ago.
BRIDGETTEYes, I did. I'm back now.
SHERWOODAll right, good. Well, email me. I've got something to tell you. And it's six months old, but it's still good.
SMITHAnd if you found a good fishing hole down there, call me and let me know. I don't fish enough.
NNAMDII'm glad we could provide a communication service of Bridgette and her old friend.
SMITHWell, you know, the King memorial took like 27 years, something like that, with some fraternity brothers just talking about how they could maybe do it and then -- there's a nice timeline in The Post, I think, today about how long it took for this.
NNAMDIBut I'm glad Bridgette brought up the African American Civil War Museum and Memorial because you've poured so much energy into that. What would you say are the most important elements of creating a memorial and building something that's strong enough to live up to that role for generations to come?
SMITHWell, you know, I think, first of all, Kevin Johnson, I believe that's his name, who got -- who really pioneered this project and pushed it and stayed with it. And I saw him the other day, and he's still a little bit heavier than I expected he would be. I expected he would have lost about 100 pounds trying to do this, but he deserves a lot of respect from me and others because I've gone through what he went through, to build a monument here.
SMITHAnd so now you have two African-American men who've actually built a monument in the nation's capital. That's something that we can say right there, and I'm happy to share that with him.
SMITHBut let me just say that when you start out with these things, you really don't necessarily know where all of this is going. We knew, when we started building the monument on U Street, that we were trying to find a way to bring tourists up there from the mall because, remember, the street was devastated by the riots. There was no business up there. We needed more people up there spending money.
SMITHSo we were trying to find a way to bring tourists up there. And then the question becomes, if you want to do this, what are you going to build? Well, I'd heard about these soldiers when I was in Mississippi, in the Civil Rights Movement, from a man who had his grandfather's rifle and uniform. And I started studying and reading about them and buying books and objects and artifacts.
SMITHAnd so I put that together with the need for tourism and said, let's build this. And we believe if we put these 200,000 names of all these soldiers up on this wall, people will come to see it. And the response to it has been overwhelming, quite honestly. It's been much greater than I ever expected.
SMITHWe have a major program that we're undertaking now that we're going to work -- talk to the superintendent of schools about here, where we're going to -- this year, we're going to do a Teacher of the Year award program, where we're inviting teachers to write a curriculum called Civil War to Civil Rights.
SMITHI want to give an award to the top teachers who write these. And it's going to be a national program because we want people to start teaching this material all across the country, because people teach about the Civil War every day. As I often say, they misteach about the Civil War every day. They leave out the story about these African-Americans who joined President Lincoln and helped him win the war, by the way, end slavery in America and lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement.
SMITHWithout the Civil War, there wouldn't have been a Civil Rights Movement. There wouldn't have been a 14th Amendment that talk about equal protection if these men hadn't gone into war and so -- and put their lives on the line. At the time they joined President Lincoln, they didn't know who was going to win this war. They were put -- they were taking the extreme risk to try to free themselves, which was necessary in order to turn this country around. It's a major important moment in the history of our country and the history of our people.
SHERWOODAnd do you think that the -- I like the memorial. It has lots of detail, and the carving of it is very nice. Do you think the King Memorial represents -- as much as people are glad to see it, some people have grumbled a bit that he looks too confrontational, that he was a man of peace, and he has these folded arms and kind of a stern stare, you know.
SHERWOODEven -- it was modified once. Some people said he should have been sitting down like FDR. Some have said, like, the stone, the mountain of despair, out of which the stone of hope is carved, is a little too white Disney-looking rock. I'll give you a chance to say something that's not as laudatory, as good as it is.
SMITHWell, you -- no. You're not going to get me to comment on something I haven't seen, Tom.
SHERWOODYou haven't even driven by it?
SMITHI said I haven't seen it, Tom. I'm saving an opportunity...
SHERWOODWell, you can drive by it. You -- don't you go over there?
SMITH...to go see it. I haven't seen it. But let me just say that -- I think that for there to be a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King on the National Mall in the nation's capital is, in and of itself, a tremendous success.
SHERWOODBetween Jefferson and Lincoln in Washington.
SMITHAbsolutely. It's going to be -- it's going to attract an awful lot of national and international support. And so we're happy to have it join this family of monuments here in D.C. When they come to Washington, D.C., they come to see the African American Civil War Memorial to the soldiers who made it possible for that 14th Amendment, and then they go downtown and see the monument to Dr. Martin Luther King...
SHERWOODAnd it's right next to the Cherry Blossom Festival too. It's going to be great.
SMITHNext to the Cherry Blossom Parade, and you -- next to the Cherry Blossom Festival, and you can look almost across the street and see President Lincoln's monument. So it's a fantastic collection of our things, and it's going to be important to the country and important to our young people.
NNAMDIFrank Smith is a former member of the D.C. Council, a Democrat who represented Ward 1, a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He's now the director of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum. Frank, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHe started to tear up there at the moment. I thought I heard tears (unintelligible). I want to see you on Sunday, a week from Sunday.
NNAMDIYou'll see more of those.
NNAMDIHe'll be crying then. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst...
SHERWOODI'll be -- all right. Thank you.
NNAMDI...and a columnist for The Current Newspaper. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
We explore the lessons from cities that have boosted their minimum wage as D.C. activists try to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Kojo sits down with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to talk about her first months on the job, how she's prioritizing public health needs, and how her personal story instructs her vision for health policy and progress in Baltimore.