Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
We speak with the District’s Schools Chancellor about the results of this year’s DC CAS standardized tests, as well as her plans for the future of the public school system, including the goal of more coordination between regular public schools and charter schools. She will also address this year’s controversial school closures, the timeline of planned boundary changes, plans to address truancy and other issues facing D.C. public schools.
- Kaya Henderson Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson responds to listener questions that didn’t get answered on-air. She talks about improving the number of advanced learners, evaluating success beyond standardized tests and the misconceptions behind summer school.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The results of D.C. public schools math and reading tests are in, and they're impressive. In the 2012-2013 school year, D.C. public schools students scored higher than ever before. Average scores increased across the board and in nearly every ward in the city.
MR. KOJO NNAMDID.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson says the city's approach to school reform is paying off, but there's more work to be done. Proficiency still lags behind much of the rest of the country, and sticky issues remain, including controversial school closings, truancy and graduation rates. Joining us in studio to talk about all of this is the aforementioned Kaya Henderson. She is chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Thank you so much for joining us.
MS. KAYA HENDERSONAlways a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIKaya Henderson last joined us back in January of this year during that whole school closure discussion. And you may also remember that the deputy mayor for education, Abigail Smith, joined us on The Politics Hour back on June 28. So this is a continuing conversation that you can join by calling 800-433-8850 if you have any questions or comments for D.C. school chancellor, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. So results in for this year's Comprehensive Assessment System, known as DC CAS, and there are lots of good news. Can you talk about what kinds of gains students made?
HENDERSONSure. So I'm really pleased that we made great growth this year in reading, in math, in composition and in science. We increased the number of advanced students. We decreased the number of below-basic students. We saw a significant growth in our 40 lowest-performing schools. And all students from every ward, in every grade, in every racial and economic background, made gains, and that is something to celebrate.
NNAMDIWhat subjects are tested on these standardized tests?
HENDERSONAs I mentioned, reading, math, composition...
NNAMDITo what do you attribute these gains, and what do these results say to you about the direction of school reform in the District of Columbia?
HENDERSONSo I think these gains are the initial results of some significant investments that we've made over the last six years at D.C. public schools. As you know, we came in really investing in human capital, trying to get, grow and keep the very best teachers and principals, and I think you see that paying off. Two years ago, we implemented a new standardized curriculum that's aligned to the Common Core State Standards, which is more rigorous than the previous academic standards under which we were working.
HENDERSONAnd after two years of teachers now having that curriculum, having professional development aligned to that curriculum, I think that we're starting to see the results. Thirdly, I think we have been a little bit creative in terms of how we approach this work. Last year, I moved $10 million around and handed it out to our schools to let them decide how they wanted to innovate around time, talent or technology, with the vast majority of that money going to our 40 lowest-performing schools. And I'm pleased to say that 34 of those 40 schools saw gains in reading or math.
NNAMDIWhile the averages are impressive, half of D.C. students still are not reaching proficiency, and if you look at individual schools, the gains were uneven. What issues still need to be addressed?
HENDERSONWell, Kojo, first of all, I wanna make sure that people understand where we're coming from. In 2007, only about 30 percent of students in D.C. public schools were reaching proficiency, and now we're knocking on the door of 50 percent. We have to celebrate that progress. Last year, we put out a strategic plan because we wanted to set people's expectations for the kind of growth and progress that they should see. We believe that in five years, by 2017, we can get to 70 percent proficiency, and I think this year's results show us that we can actually do that.
NNAMDIAgain, gains were made in every group, but achievement gaps still remain between white, black and Hispanic students. What can be done to close those gaps?
HENDERSONWell, I mean, we all know that socioeconomics play a significant role in education. We can't ignore that. But I think by doubling down on our investments in our 40 lowest-performing schools, by extending the school day and the school year -- and we piloted some longer school days in eight schools this year, and I'm pleased to say that seven schools saw gains in both reading and math -- and by continuing to work with our people and the curriculum, but, more importantly, motivating our students and engaging parents in this work, I think those are the things that are gonna get us to the success that we're trying to achieve.
NNAMDIOur guest is Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. We're talking about the recent significant gains of D.C. students in standardized tests, and the schools chancellor says that that does call for some celebration. I know that the mayor yesterday apparently said, yes, and pumped a fist at this.
NNAMDIBut that's enough of the celebration. Let's move on to what the politics might be behind this. Councilmember David Catania, chairman of the Education Committee, notes that while these results are encouraging, they are still not adequate. Do you agree with that characterization?
HENDERSONDo I agree that...
NNAMDIThey're not adequate?
HENDERSONWell, I think that you can't -- when you look at test score progress, if we had made 10 points in growth, that would be an anomaly, and people would discount those scores. And so I think we're making solid and consistent progress, and I think that's the thing that you wanna see in the course of, you know, a number of years of school performance.
NNAMDIThe impression I get -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- is that you and the councilmember are, at this point, looking at the same school system, but you're not looking at it with the same eyes, obviously, but you don't also seem to be on the same page, are you?
HENDERSONWell, here's what I think. A few years ago, nobody expected anything out of D.C. public schools. Nobody demanded that we move faster, nobody -- because they didn't think that we could do it. So, in fact, I take the calls for more to be an indication of progress to -- it means that people think that we can actually achieve these goals, and they wanna get there faster. I wanna get there faster, too, but I also know that this is really complex work, and there's not a silver bullet to doing this. Ask my teachers. Ask my principals. They'll tell you that day in and day out.
NNAMDIWell, I don't know if Councilmember Catania thinks he has a silver bullet, but he has introduced some ambitious legislation aimed at school reform. He introduced legislation, including all schools will have to meet performance targets in order to continue operating. What do you think about that?
HENDERSONWell, I think there are some different philosophies around closing schools, and there are lots of people who think if a school is not performing, you shut it down. I think through the conversations that we had this year around our consolidations, people don't want their school closed -- schools closed. They want strong neighborhood schools. And I've watched other school districts that close schools and reopen them as new things, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
HENDERSONSo I don't know that the strategy for an underperforming school is to close it. If you remember, we didn't close schools for underperformance. We closed schools for low enrollment. If we can't get people to go, then we can't provide the kind of budget and the academic programming that those schools need to be successful.
NNAMDIThe councilmember has introduced several other proposals. What's the stage of negotiation, if you will...
NNAMDI...between you and he on those proposals?
HENDERSONWell, actually, the proposals are not just about DCPS. They're about education in the city as a whole, and the leader of our education team is the deputy mayor for education, Abigail Smith. And Abby is leading conversations with my team, with the public charter school board team and with Mr. Catania's team to try to figure out where we agree and where we can support and what compromises we need to make to get to the same end result. I think at the end of the day, we all want what's best for D.C.'s kids.
NNAMDIAnd I notice that the charter schools also had significant improvements, similar gains to the D.C. public schools, and you do not speak for the charter schools at this point. But do you think there was some similarity of approach that led to their gains?
HENDERSONWell, I can't -- you know, there are 53 different charter LEAs, and everybody's doing something a little bit differently. So I think they have to speak to their growth. But I do wanna say this. You know, in 2007, we were about 10 points behind the charter schools. Now, we're about six points behind the charter schools. And so I'm encouraged at the fact that we are beginning to close the gap.
HENDERSONNow, again, like everybody else, it's not enough. We have a long way to go, and, you know, we want it to happen. But I think we have to recognize the progress that we've made.
NNAMDIOK. I'm about to go to the telephones, so please don your headphone so you can hear what Carol in Washington, D.C., who identifies herself as a DCPS teacher, has to say. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLHi. Kudos to Kaya and Kojo...
NNAMDIThree K's in one sentence. Go ahead.
CAROLOh, a little alliteration. Person -- I have seen Chancellor Henderson in some really tight and difficult situations, and I must say I am really impressed by the humility. The intelligence I knew, and the other stuff I knew, all the other stuff that makes you a leader, but the humility I'm really impressed with. And here's my question, what do you think about teachers, especially some of your advanced to expert teachers, having some autonomy in curriculum, either curriculum development or curriculum choice? And I guess I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you so much.
NNAMDICarol, thank you for your call.
HENDERSONSo we actually completely want our best teachers to both develop the curriculum that our teachers are using across the District. In fact, we have a group of teachers who we've been working with all summer, the Common Core Reading Corps and the Common Core Math Corps, which are some of our most advanced teachers in the District who are writing curriculum for our schools.
HENDERSONSo we know that the talent is out in our classrooms, and we are working to bring it in so that we can spread the knowledge that you will have, teachers like you, Carol, to more and more kids across the District.
NNAMDICarol, thank you very much for your call. You mentioned Common Core a couple of times. These new math exams were introduced to align with the Common Core Standards that D.C. has adopted. Can you talk a little bit more about the Common Core and what the new curriculum will mean for students?
HENDERSONSure. So last year, we moved to a Common Core-aligned exam and curriculum around English language arts. It really calls for reading not textbooks, but books, the books that you have on your shelf or that I have on my shelf. We talk about texts that are worthy of our children's time and attention. And so they're reading fiction and nonfiction. They're reading the classics.
HENDERSONIn fact, we've spent millions of dollars on books for classroom libraries so that children are getting a rich set of literature and nonfiction texts. And they're called to analyze these texts. They're called to read the text, to pull evidence from the text to support positions that they take in response to the text, and it's just a much different approach. On the math side, we teach math very differently than most people in the rest of the world.
HENDERSONIn fact, most people in the rest of the world teach fewer subjects in math and go much more deeply. We are wide and, I guess, shallow. And so it's reorganizing when we teach math, the sequence in which we teach various mathematic subjects, and it's making things more simple, more elegant so that we can go in-depth.
NNAMDIOn now to Peter on Capitol Hill. Peter, your turn.
PETER MACPHERSONWell, the chancellor is quite familiar with me. I'm quite familiar with her. I've been with (unintelligible)
NNAMDIBut you're breaking...
MACPHERSON...the school a lot.
NNAMDIOh, now, you're sounding better.
MACPHERSONI'm sorry. Can you -- OK. I'm sorry about that.
NNAMDITry to stay on in the same position.
MACPHERSONWell, anyway -- yeah. Kojo, I guess the question I have for the chancellor is, is that we have a spectacularly bad situation with school libraries in DCPS. And in spite of the, you know, the chancellor's statements and promises, we're going to open, next month, with probably 40 schools without a librarian. And we're on an (word?) to also to open a new Dunbar High School with no new books, a new Cardozo High School with no new books, a new McKinley Tech Middle School with no new books...
NNAMDIAnd your question, Peter?
MACPHERSON...onto -- is why? I mean, the chancellor promised to...
NNAMDIOK. Got the question. Why? Why no books?
HENDERSONSo, in fact, we -- the -- first of all, I wanna address what I promised. And what I promised was that with the consolidation of schools, we'd be able to fund more librarians and we did that. And so we will actually see an increase in the number of librarians across our schools this year. And, you know, on the book front, in fact, we found out very late this year that we would not be able to use capital dollars to purchase books, to purchase furnitures, to purchase all kinds of things.
HENDERSONAnd so we're having to move around quite a bit of money to be able to open many of our modernized schools with the simple trappings that they need. At the same time, we are looking...
NNAMDICardozo and Dunbar being two of those modernized schools.
HENDERSONYup. Absolutely. So we are moving money as fast as we possibly can and doing the best that we possibly can to get books into our libraries but into our schools.
NNAMDIPeter, you seem to think that something could be done differently?
MACPHERSONWell, absolutely. I mean, for one thing, this thing about the capital funds is a complete red herring. I mean, in Maryland, New York City, in just about every jurisdiction in the United States, they use capital funds to buy library materials. But above and beyond...
NNAMDIWell, wait a minute. What you seem to be...
HENDERSONBut we've been instructed by the office of the CFO that we are not able to do that. And so that's an issue that Mr. MacPherson will have to take up with Dr. Gandhi's office.
MR. PETER MACPHERSONWell, I'm taking it up with you, chancellor. I mean, the fact is, is that you knew these schools have not had these materials. You knew that they were opening. And the fact that you're getting this news this late, even though I think that it's wrong, you know, is, is that this isn't rocket science. This required a very modest degree of prescience.
HENDERSONMr. MacPherson, the...
MACPHERSONAnd I wanna know why you haven't been able to move on that.
HENDERSONThe challenge is that as you know, we have managed our budget and we have things that are allocated. We did not -- in fact, we got a reduction in our budget this year, and so we are doing our very best to meet all of the priorities. I think the challenge is everybody believes that there is a different number one priority. And I, in fact, have to go with the priorities that my team and I set for the bets that we need to -- that we think are going to move student achievement.
HENDERSONAnd I'm pleased to say that last year, even with fewer librarians than you would have liked, we saw nice increases in reading. Why? Because we, in fact, got books into classrooms where children have them. We brought classroom sets of libraries so that we're not just depending upon a centralized location. And we also purchased technology and we put books on Nooks. And so students got the ability to, in fact, engage with rich literature. And I appreciate libraries, in fact. But you've decided that this is the number one priority for D.C. Public Schools, and we just happen to differ on that.
NNAMDIPeter, thank you very much for your call. You indicated that the chancellor knew who you were, and I know who you are, Peter MacPherson, 'cause she mentioned your last name. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with schools -- chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, Kaya Henderson, and we'll be joined WAMU 88.5 special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. And joining us now in studio is WAMU special correspondent who covers education, Kavitha Cardoza. She interviewed the chancellor for WAMU's "Morning Edition." As you might expect, Kavitha gets a lot of questions from listeners and others, and she got a big response for her interview.
NNAMDISo she's now here to share with us some of the questions we got from some of our listeners and -- but she'll probably add some of her own. But go ahead, Kavitha.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZAThanks for having me, Kojo.
CARDOZAAnd nice to see you again, chancellor.
CARDOZAYeah. Usually, when I speak to you, chancellor, I ask you what I want to know, and I have so many questions from residents. So one of the things -- you and Kojo were talking a little early about Councilmember David Catania's plans. But one of the things that happened is that he had a law firm, and a lot of the decisions were made or discussed. And you had been quoted once for saying you went into a meeting and these were major policy decisions that were being kind of ruled out.
CARDOZAAnd you had no time to prep and you didn't know what was going on. And so one of the better feedback I get often from teachers is about this, they said, you know what, now maybe the chancellor knows what it felt like when she and the former Chancellor Michelle Rhee made the sweeping changes and didn't ask for our input.
HENDERSONWell, I absolutely understand that. But I want to counter that, right, because in fact, before we made any changes, the first thing that we did in 2007 was sit down and listen. We listened to parents. We went to living rooms all over the city. But we had more than 150 meetings with teachers. Now we didn't hit every one of the 4,100. But we listened to teachers, and what teachers were saying to us is, we don't what we're supposed to be doing because our principal is holding us accountable for one thing.
HENDERSONThe textbook is saying, teach this. The (word?) assessments are testing something different. And literally, we -- and we have things that we want to teach. And so we just need to know what your expectations are. We want to know what good teaching and learning looks like and what you want us to be doing. And that's what led us to create the teaching and learning framework and impact so that we could immediately show people where they were against that.
HENDERSONIn 2010, in fact, when I became chancellor, I went out and I met with teachers all over the city. And they said, we're very clear about how you want us to teach. Now let's talk about what we're teaching because we're making things up, and we don't have a standardized curriculum. And the standards are not distilled enough for us to be sure that what we're providing our young people with is the best. And I thought that was absolutely a critical issue, and so the first that we did was work on curriculum.
NNAMDIKavitha, can I ask a follow-up about the teachers?
NNAMDIThe Washington Teacher's Union recently elected a new president, Elizabeth Davis. That election is being contested by the ousted president Nate Saunders who, apparently, is being punished for getting along too well with you. (laugh) One remembers that his predecessor...
CARDOZAI hear that.
NNAMDI...George Parker was apparently punished for getting along to well with Michelle Rhee. But among the concerns of the Teacher's Union is the closing of traditional public schools. What are you're thoughts on working with the Teacher's Union going forward?
HENDERSONSo you know, one of the things that I hope to provide an example of is the fact that there are more ways to make progress than by fighting. I think that an embattled school system can't progress. I've watched teachers and principals really not be able to do their work because of the contentiousness.
HENDERSONAnd part of what I think I've brought to D.C. Public Schools is a calming, some predictability, helping to support teachers and principals so that they're able to do their work well because that's what is gonna make student achievement move. The Teachers Union, I had a great relationship with George. I had a great relationship with Nathan. I expect to have a great relationship with Liz. We all want the same thing.
HENDERSONWe might have different ways to get there, but when reasonable people sit down together and, you know, talk about how to get somewhere and work together to get there, I actually believe that we can make it happen.
NNAMDIOf course, that election is being challenged, so we don't know how that's gonna turn out yet. Back to you, Kavitha.
CARDOZAOne -- so one of the things I hear from a lot of parents is, you know, they love their principal. They have formed relationships. And suddenly you decide that the principal isn't working out and the contract isn't renewed, and then their principal is gone.
CARDOZAOr there was one school where they did a survey of parents, and they wanted a foreign language. And everyone was all excited, and they came up, you know, with a proposal and that was shot down. Well, we're not gonna do that now. And so I think parents are kind of like, well, what -- how involved should we be? And one of the tweets we've gotten is, "Can the chancellor describe the ideal DCPS parent?"
HENDERSON(laugh) So -- no. I don't think I can -- I think the ideal DCPS parent is one who cares about their kid and their student and does whatever they can do to help their student, period, the end. And I think we have lots of ideal parents. I think the school system has struggled to figure out the right way to involve and engage parents.
HENDERSONAnd I think that we have hit upon some new and really productive ways to engage parents in helping their young people succeed through a partnership with the Flamboyan Foundation where we're training our teachers and our principals to do home visits, to provide parents with information that they can use with their young people at home and to work with the school. And so we have had 13 Flamboyan partnership schools this past year and -- or over the past two years. Twelve of them saw increases in scores.
HENDERSONAnd so I know for sure when we're engaging parents in the right way, it moves student achievement. We have to do more of that. I do think that there are a couple of different ways to think about parent engagement. One is how do we engage parents to help their students, right? The second piece is how do we engage parents to actually make decisions about the District. And I think that we have lots of different ideas about what should be in D.C. public schools.
HENDERSONBut I watch parent communities drive programming in various schools over the years, and I watched incredible disparities happen where parents were more able to advocate or provide, and I think we have to -- equity is incredibly important to me. And so providing foreign languages, not just because somebody raises a hand and says it, but really thinking about how we see a foreign language program in a school and make it successful is very important.
HENDERSONAs you know, I've taken the money that we're saving from the school consolidations to ensure that every single one of our elementary schools is able to offer at least 45 minutes of art, music, P.E., library and foreign language. Previously, only -- the only schools that have foreign language were ones where a principal thought it was important or parents actually paid for the foreign language teacher. If our young people are gonna compete, then they need to be exposed to foreign languages very early.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to a caller because this caller raises a question that Kavitha raised in her interview with you and a question, I think, she also has more to ask about in her notes there. Here is Jenny in Washington, D.C. Jenny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNYHi. Yeah. I sort of wished I could be channeling my inner Tom Sherwood right now because I feel like he'd be a good question asker. But my question -- I really appreciate the news about increased kindergarten test scores, but I have to say that my faith in that news is shaken because of a cheating scandal that was raised a couple of years ago and the fact that a really significant probe has really, really been conducted into that. And I wanted to get the chancellor's response and see if maybe they would be open to a probe with subpoena powers and so forth.
HENDERSONHere's the thing, right, and I've been on a record saying this over and over again. I am open to whatever would clear us from the cloud that is over our heads around the alleged cheating scandal. But I cannot ignore the fact that we've had five or six separate investigations conducted by external entities including the inspector general, including test investigatory agent companies, including, you know, and even up to now every year, it's an institutionalized thing.
HENDERSONYou know, our teachers who work hard every single day, our young people who are killing it in the classrooms, I think, don't deserve to be tainted with this cloud. And if there was something that I could do to remove it, I feel like we've done everything that we could, and if there are other things that, you know, folks wanna do, I'm open to it. But I'm not in 2008. I can't go back and fix 2008.
HENDERSONWhat I have to do is be responsible for the young people who are in my classrooms right now. We have the most stringent test security, procedures in place, even down to teachers not proctoring their own exams. One of our babies said to me, I didn't cheat, Chancellor Henderson. Why can't my teacher be in the classroom?
HENDERSONI wanna set our young people up for the very, very best. And we are trying to prevent cheating on the front end. We are investigating on the back end, but in the meantime, I'm pushing student achieving it.
CARDOZAOne of the things you talk a lot about is equity, and you just talked about the parents. So the scaling up you want to take the Flamboyan model to many more schools. So I had done a story on them and they do things like teachers, when they do home visits, they won't take notes because that reminds a lot of parents of social service agencies.
CARDOZAThey -- teachers say in the classroom, read a book at night, and they go home on a home visit and realize there are no books at home.
CARDOZAThat is one type of parent we have. We also have parents who are super involved and vary, and they want their voices heard. And they feel with your model of equity, where you are trying to give the same resources to all schools, it's kind of hurting their students, and then why should they stay in public schools? Why shouldn't they go to private schools? So when you talk about equity, how do you balance that in the city?
HENDERSONSo equity does not mean that people should not have things. In fact, I think we have moved from trying to fix a broken school system to creating a school system where we would want -- any of us would be proud to have our children to go. And that means ensuring that all of our schools have as much to offer as possible. It's not a zero-sum game, but I can't ignore schools at the expense of other schools.
HENDERSONAnd I think, you know, we see parents making choices every single day to bring their young people back from private schools, to bring their young people back into the system because we're offering a great education. I was just at Wilson Senior High School this morning where we had a summer robotics program, and kids from all across the city...
NNAMDIOh, no wonder you came over here today 'cause you were just across the street. I thought you came slugging from across town.
HENDERSON(laugh) Kids from high schools all across the city are at Wilson this summer, making robots, right? One young man told me that he wants to be a software engineer, and that this was a great use of his summer time because not only did he learn robotics but we do robotics for half of the day and then coding for the other half of the day. And he's like, I feel like I'm well on my way to software -- to being a software engineer.
HENDERSONWe have things that parents would be thrilled about. But unfortunately, the media doesn't cover the good stuff, frankly. That's my challenge to you to come -- and Kavitha has been in our schools. I have to say there are amazing things going on. And if there are parents who are worried that their children will not get a good education, give us a call. We have placement specialist who will take you on school visits and show you what we have to offer.
NNAMDII said this before, and I'll say it again, we cover things that are not working. If things are working, then that's the way things are supposed to happen.
HENDERSONThat is a problem.
CARDOZAWell, I covered a lot of stories of things working today.
HENDERSONKavitha is -- absolutely.
NNAMDIWhen we interviewed Deputy Mayor Abigail Smith, she talked quite a bit about public charter schools, which continue to grow. They're now 43 percent of pubic school enrollment in the District. I let Phil take us from there. Phil in Northeast Washington, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILThanks, Kojo. Hi, chancellor. Congratulations on the terrific results (word?)
HENDERSONThank you, Phil.
PHILThey're encouraging to see and I thank you (unintelligible) terrific public effect our employees in D.C., you've made them possible. My question is about chartering and chartering authority. I understand the mayor has proposed allowing you to create your own charter schools. And I think it's terrific because I'm concerned about people leaving our public schools for charter schools.
PHILI think it's a good opportunity to perhaps keep some more folks in them. However, the concern I have is, will these schools be available to the children who live near them, or will they be schools that are offering no such preference to neighborhood children?
NNAMDIAnd what would it mean for you to have chartering authority.
HENDERSONSure. Thanks, Phil, for asking that question. So I actually am asking for chartering authority in part because I want to build a strong system of neighborhood schools. So my intention is that any DCPS charters would be neighborhood schools accepting unique situations. One of -- I think we've learned a lot from 16 years of charter -- of having a charter sector here in Washington. And I want to be able to provide principals with the kinds of autonomy that some charter -- that our charter principals have.
HENDERSONI want to be able to innovate, and I want people to understand that innovation doesn't just happen outside the District, that it can happen inside the District. I think we have some great examples. You know, we've got lots of schools. I don't wanna start naming names because somebody will say, well, you didn't say my school. But we've got lots of examples of innovation happening. But I actually think that we could go further faster in some cases if we were able to have chartering authority.
HENDERSONThere are three reasons why I want chartering authority. First of all, as I said, to provide some of my high-performing principals with more leeway and more of a runway to be able to make results happen. The second reason is to turn around some low-performing schools. We've had a great partnership with a couple of different charter providers. One...
HENDERSONStanton is a great example. Scholar Academies has helped us turn around Stanton where we've more than doubled reading and more than tripled math scores at Stanton. And Scholar Academies would like to work with us with more schools, and I'd like to give them the same autonomies that they have in a charter sector, not have them operate with one hand tied behind their back just because they're serving neighborhood kids.
HENDERSONAchievement Prep at Malcolm X, we -- it's an opportunity for one of the highest performing middle-grade charters in the world to be a neighborhood school. That's what we want, but I can't get there because I can't give Achievement Prep the same autonomies that they have outside of DCPS.
CARDOZAWhen we say...
NNAMDIWe have time for one more, Kavitha, then we have to take a break.
CARDOZAWhen we say more autonomy, are we talking about non-unionized teachers? Is that code for non-unionized teachers?
HENDERSONNo, no. In fact, let me give you a couple of examples of some other autonomy. So, one, the ability to manage your budget more freely. We have certain things that we can and can't do with our budget. Our charter partners have much more freedom. So that's one. There are some municipal regulations that we have to attend to that the charters don't have to attend to. So my people are wasting time on compliance issues that our charter partners are not and they're able to then spend their time and energy on instruction. We just want to be able to run the same race unhindered.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have in this segment. We have to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Kaya Henderson, she is chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Kavitha Cardoza, thank you so much for joining us.
CARDOZAThanks for having me.
NNAMDIKavitha is special correspondent for WAMU 88.5 News. She focuses on education. If you like to get through, the phone lines are busy, so you may wanna shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. The closing of some 15 schools this year due to under-enrollment, I'd like to talk about the students who are affected. Reassigning those students is obviously a priority, but in June, DCPS said only a small percentage had signed up for re-enrollment at another city school. How is that effort going?
HENDERSONIt's moving along. One of the challenges is there is actually no real incentive to you filling out your enrollment forms early. We've tried to create incentives. So we're giving away movie tickets and we've raffled off iMac's and computer carts and all kinds of things. The good news is, overall as a district, we are seeing an increased pace of enrollment. But we can't discount the frustrations that families are feeling as a result of the closings and consolidations. That's real and we acknowledge that.
HENDERSONBut we're out there in neighborhoods knocking on doors, trying to help parents to understand what we're going to be able to offer at the receiving schools, and we're seeing, you know, progress. But we expect -- I mean, most folks enroll their kids in August, and so we're expecting that next month. We'll see a huge uptick.
NNAMDIDenise in Washington, D.C., wants to talk about closing schools. Denise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DENISEHi. Good afternoon. I would like to find out about three schools in particular on my concern, Sharpe Health School on 13th Street in Washington, D.C., Mamie D. Lee and Ferebee-Hope School. And what I have observed, these three schools are -- OK, with Sharpe and Ferebee-Hope in prime location, cater to special needs children, well-built and the design is lead all for special needs children.
DENISEAnd what is the plan for these children? Because I understand Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe has -- is closing and for Ferebee-Hope, this is a public school, which was recently renovated. We're talking about a SMART school, SMART board, air condition, swimming pool, very, very good location in Southeast Washington, D.C. And as soon as the school was renovated, it was closed this semester at the end of June.
NNAMDIOK. Allow me to have the chancellor respond.
HENDERSONSo on the Sharpe Health and Mamie D. Lee, both buildings do serve our special needs students. But, in fact, the design is not state-of-the-art. We are unable to provide all of the up-to-date accommodations that we should be able to provide for those medically fragile students. We have great examples of better facilities. And, in fact, when we look at the cost of renovating Mamie D. Lee or Sharpe Health, the cost to bring them to a state-of-the-art facility that those students deserve is tremendous.
HENDERSONIn fact, we have a plan, and we're working with the students, the staff, the families at Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe Health over the next year on a transition plan to build a state-of-the-art special education school at the River Terrace location. And we believe that based on the estimates that we've gotten back from the Department of General Services that we can actually do more in that space than we can do in Sharpe Health or Mamie D. Lee.
HENDERSONOn the Ferebee-Hope front, in fact, they've had some modernization, but, in fact, we have not invested tremendously. The SMART boards can actually be moved. One of the great things about Ferebee-Hope is that it's attached to a rec center which is where the pool piece comes in and whatnot. But enrollment at Ferebee-Hope has been declining. And, in fact, with the relocation of the families from Washington Highlands, when we talked to the Department of Housing, they are not anticipating enough young people coming back to be able to fill that school.
HENDERSONAnd so I can't continue to operate the school that has less than 200 kids in it when we're funded on a model where the number of kids you have actually dictates the budget that you have. But I take the caller's point in that we need to be careful about what happens with that building and what we're able to offer in that community. And I think that is -- that's absolutely right.
NNAMDIDenise, thank you very much for your call. I don't know if Denise intended to imply this, but I certainly inferred it 'cause I heard it from a lot of people and that is that -- well, the reason they're closing these schools is because these buildings are very, very valuable, and they can get a great deal of money for using these buildings for some other purpose. Does that come in to your thinking at all when you're talking about -- when you're thinking about whether or not to keep a school open?
HENDERSONInto mine, it does not. I don't know property values. I don't know, you know, I only know what I need to do to try to accelerate achievement for our students. And I know that when I spread my money across too many buildings or in situations where kids are under enrolled, then I'm not giving them the best they possibly can. The deputy mayor for education's office is actually presiding over what I think is a pretty fair process to take community intentions around what should happen with the buildings.
HENDERSONIn 2008 when we close schools, in fact, we didn't do anything with most of the buildings that were closed. They remained closed, and they were blighted in the community. And I think the community sees them as disinvestments, and I don't want that to be the message. But I do think that we have to engage the community around what building were used looks like, and the deputy mayor is leading that process.
NNAMDIAn issue that causes a great deal of anxiety among parents, changes to school boundaries coming down the line. I understand that plan has been pushed back. What's the story?
CARDOZASure. Councilmember Catania actually pushed back the implementation of any boundary or fit or pattern changes. We are trying to put together a process where parents, families, community members have the chance to weigh in. We'll create a taskforce, a citywide taskforce which will have representatives from all wards from all walks of life that will sit down and work with us to come up with a set of recommendations. Only after we've done extensive community engagement in the fall and probably likely the spring before we come up with any sort of a proposal.
NNAMDIOn to Chris in Northeast Washington. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISGood afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. Chancellor, first of all, congratulations on the progress. I think it's absolutely wonderful. I know that there's certainly a lot of work to do. But at the same time, progress is progress, and it's wonderful to see here in D.C.
HENDERSONThank you, Chris.
CHRISI know one of my favorite quotes, the old Jacob Riis quote about the stonecutter, and the gentleman goes down and watches a stonecutter hit away at this rock 1,000 times. And on the thousand and first hit, the rock strikes in half, and he knows it is not that one blow but all the thousand that came before. And I just think of that is such wonderful news to hear.
HENDERSONThank you for that, Chris.
CHRISWell, one of the things I wanted to talk about -- I was actually pretty excited reading the other day about the ninth grade academies and the division, the more sort of concrete division between grade levels at the high school division, especially over at Dunbar, and the progress that they have made. And I'm just wondering if you could expand on that a little bit and...
NNAMDIAnacostia, Ballou, Cardozo, Coolidge, Dunbar, Eastern, Roosevelt, Wilson and Woodson high schools.
HENDERSONYeah. One of the things that our -- that we realized is that our teachers are really struggling to teach a number of young people at a variety of different levels. And so across the school district, we're trying to figure out ways to deal with that. But it's especially acute in the ninth grade, where if you don't pass English 1 and Algebra 1, your chances of success in high school go down dramatically. And we wanna make sure that our children are best positioned to do that.
HENDERSONAnd we can do that by not treating our ninth graders in a one-size-fits-all manner, but really tailoring our instruction to them. And so there are group of kids who come into the ninth grade ready to learn, ready to go. If we can put them in a community with teachers who are specifically devoted to them, counselors who are specifically devoted to them, opportunities for enrichment specifically tailored to where they are, we improve their chances of success.
HENDERSONFor our young people who are struggling when they get to the ninth grade, if we can surround them with a group of teachers who are devoted to them with the social supports and wraparound services that they need, if it's more time in school, if it's a different time in school, we have to stop with the kind of blunt approach and really go to a more surgical approach in terms of providing services for our young people.
HENDERSONAnd that's what the ninth grade academies attempt to do. When we look out across the country, at cities that have had success in reforming their high schools, one of the first things that they do is ensure that they have a ninth grade academy so that they're setting kids up for success in that early -- in that first crucial year of high school.
NNAMDIAnd I'm pretty sure that's one of the tactics you're hoping will improve the truancy situation and graduation rates. But it's my understanding that students who are repeating ninth grade will be separated from incoming ninth graders. What's the idea behind that?
HENDERSONWell, you know, we talked to students who said, you know, sometimes it's really hard when kids have -- are in the same class for the second or third time and their motivation is really low and my motivation is really high, right? And that's real for students. (laugh) And so I think expecting our young people who have been in the ninth grade on more than one occasion to just do the same thing the same way is not setting them up for success.
HENDERSONSo, you know, we are listening to what our students are saying, we're listening to what our teachers are saying and trying to change the conditions so that folks can be more successful.
NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Ann in Silver Spring, Md. Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNHi. I'm a recently retired federal employee and I would like to volunteer. So can you put me in touch with somebody?
HENDERSONYes. Absolutely, Ann. If we can get your information, I can put you in touch with our volunteer office. Volunteers help us do so much of our work. They read to our young people, they help in our schools. In fact, on Aug. 24, we'll host Beautification Day where the Saturday before we open schools on the 26, we'll have about 3,500 volunteers who are planting and painting murals and getting our schools ready.
HENDERSONAnd so we hope you'll jump on our website and register to be a volunteer for Beautification Day. But, Ann, if we can get your information, I can absolutely hook you up with our volunteer office. And we'd love to have you at D.C. public schools.
NNAMDIAnn, I'm gonna put you on hold where a very important person named Natalie Yuravlivker will take your information, and so she can pass it on to the schools chancellor and her people. On to Lindsey in Washington, D.C. Lynsey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDSEY JEFFRIESHi, Kaya. I am just so impressed by the outcomes this year and your innovations as well as your grace under pressure. And I had a question around extended learning. And I was wondering what you see the role being for proven evidence-based partners both in after-school and summer.
NNAMDIWe have less than a minute left.
HENDERSONIs this Lindsey Jeffries?
MS. LYNSEY JEFFRIESYes, it is.
HENDERSONAll right. We have...
NNAMDIShe knows everybody in town.
HENDERSONLindsey is a great partner of ours with the Higher Achievement Program. And, in fact, we think that with an extended school day and extended school year, partners will have a huge role to play. There are people in our school buildings every single day who work alongside our teachers and who are working with our young people to produce these results. These results don't just belong to the students and teachers in DCPS.
HENDERSONThey belong to our community partners and our nonprofit partners who help us do this work. So the short answer is yes, Lindsey, huge role for partners to play.
NNAMDIKaya Henderson is chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, which just saw a significant increase in the standardized test results of students in the public schools, for which she has been congratulated and will be celebrating. Does this mean you're now gonna run for office at some point?
HENDERSONNot interested. I got the best job in America.
NNAMDIThat's when we'll see if there's grace under pressure there if she runs for office here in the District of Columbia. Kaya Henderson, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
An independent investigation determined that Montgomery County Police's taser policies are a model for police department's across the nation — but some in the county question the report's thoroughness and its timing.
A local school district loses its federal funding money over teacher behavior. A group of D.C. residents sue to block a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. And a Republican activist in Montgomery County successfully petitions to get term limits on the ballot—but a legal challenge looms.
While many local Ethiopians have been following the persecution of protestors in the Oromia region, a recent act of protest at the 2016 Rio Olympic marathon finish line brought the issue to an international stage.