D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson wants to close 20 public schools. In 2008, her predecessor Michelle Rhee closed 23, but the reaction from some council members is noticeably different this time around.
When Rhee said she was closing schools, there was tremendous community opposition — emotional public hearings, student walkouts and clashes with city council members. Councilmember Marion Barry in 2008, for example, led a large group of parents and children in a resounding chant of "save our schools!"
A later analysis found that the closings led to thousands of children leaving the traditional public school system and cost millions more than anticipated. Still, at a recent council hearing on school closings, Barry told Chancellor Henderson, she is "a breathe of fresh air."
"Doesn't mean I agree with you on everything, but your tone is right, your direction is right and you've given us information that's very, very useful," said Barry on Monday.
As for what has changed, Henderson has been preparing the community for months about the need for closings. Her personal style is far less confrontational than Rhee's, and Henderson says she wants to have a plan in place for the vacant school buildings. And though she says 20 schools must close to right-size the district, she insists this list is just a proposal, saying she's open to community suggestions.