Mayor Adrian Fenty, Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, mayor-to-be Vincent Gray and Michelle Rhee
Kaya Henderson, a deputy of schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, was named interim schools chancellor as Rhee ended a controversial era by announcing her resignation at a press conference joined by Mayor Adrian Fenty and presumptive mayor-elect Vincent Gray.
Born in 1970, Henderson, a native of Mt. Vernon, New York, has 13 years' experience working with District schools. A
(Photo by: RJSmith)Mayor Adrian Fenty, Kaya Henderson, and Vincent Gray
graduate of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service with a master's in "leadership" from the University, according to her DCPS bio, she is a longtime proponent of alternative teaching and certification programs such as Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, where she eventually rose to vice president.
"I'm second in command to Chancellor Rhee," Henderson explained in an archived DCPS video. "I’m also responsible for all of our 'human capital' work, which is the quality of the people that we have here. So my team and I are charged with bringing in the best teachers, principals and central office staff in order to provide an excellent education for all of our students."
DCPS parents interviewed by The Georgetown Dish offered mixed reviews of the choice. "Her actual experience is not what you would expect from school system leaders like those in neighboring jurisdictions. You would expect a more traditional and complete background," said Allan G. Assarsson, who recently pulled his child out of Hardy Middle School over worries about the school's leadership and the direction of education reform in the District.
(Photo by: RJSmith)Kaya Henderson
Henderson "is probably less confrontational, but in terms of her ideology, she is similar to Rhee," Assarsson said.
"I don't think she has the qualifications to be a chancellor," said Chris Bergfalk, an elementary teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary who was nominated for a teaching award by Rhee. "If you go inside any school right now, employee morale is extremely low. There are a number of teachers who have voluntarily left since the beginning of the school year. There is no curriculum in place. There's this teaching and learning framework -- but it's not a curriculum."
Assarson and Bergfalk both expressed concern that Henderson was the architect of a mass firing of experienced educators in the central office that has led to problems like the "sex test" controversy at Hardy -- problems that might have been avoided with more experienced hands on deck.
"All of sudden experience is a bad thing," Bergfalk said. Due to the tone of Rhee's education reform, "all of a sudden teachers are 'the problem.' That has poisoned the relationship between students, parents and teachers. Parents think, 'this must be one of the teachers who has been a problem.'" Bergfalk and his wife have three children in the schools including Alice Deal Middle School and John Eaton Elementary.
But other DCPS watchers were more hopeful. "Henderson knows how to talk to adults better than Rhee ever did. She is much more human," said a D.C. Council education aide. "From where I sit, parents are so nervous that the positive reforms won't go forward. What Henderson gives them is an expectation of some continuity. It's not just another person coming in and saying, 'here's my reform.'"