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In Speech On D.C. Schools, Henderson Offers More Inspiration Than Specifics

In a speech on the state of D.C.'s public schools, Chancellor Kaya Henderson asked her audience to imagine what good public schools would look like—but offered few specifics on how to get there.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
In a speech on the state of D.C.'s public schools, Chancellor Kaya Henderson asked her audience to imagine what good public schools would look like—but offered few specifics on how to get there.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s speech on Thursday night was billed as the State of D.C. Public Schools, but instead she focused on the future of the city's traditional public schools.

"Close your eyes and imagine with me a very different DCPS," Henderson asked the audience during her speech, telling them what she thinks is needed to create the successful public school system of the future.

"First we need the very best educators, second we need to provide our students with rigorous academics. And third we need motivated students with engaged families," she said.

Henderson's speech at the newly renovated Cardozo Education Campus in Columbia Heights was uniformly upbeat, mentioning an uptick in test scores and enrollment and brand new school buildings. But she made no mention of how DCPS was doing against the ambitious five-year targets she set last year.

For example, the goal is 70 percent of students should be reading and doing math at grade level, not even 50 percent currently do so. The graduation rate goal is 75 percent, DCPS is at 53 percent. Henderson also didn’t talk about controversial plans to overhaul school boundary and school feeder patterns.

Some parents such as Tilman Wurschmidt and Evelyn Boyd-Simmons say the speech was long on inspiration and short on specifics.

"The speech was meant as an uplifting speech but what in the end comes of it, is an entirely different story," said Wurschmidt.

"I find it anxiety-producing not to know specifics," offered Boyd-Simmons. "What I'd like to know it how do we get to the vision she articulated. It almost felt like a speech to a sales team."

Some parents such as Mary Melchior says she's heard the chancellor say she wants to "partner with parents" before.

"They want to have meetings with parents, but then do what they want to do anyway. If they’re moving in the direction of really listening and taking our feedback into account, I’ll be happy," she said.

But not everyone who attended was skeptical. Others, including Evelina Young, talked about a new sense of energy and excitement in DCPS.

"It’s excellent! All my daughter’s teachers, it’s like she’s their child!" she said.

Chancellor Henderson says DCPS is also working on plans to redevelop career and technical education as well as create study abroad programs.

Kaya Henderson Speech

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