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Kaya Henderson: Big Plans For D.C. Public Schools

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From left; De'Shawn Wright, Washington deputy mayor for education nominee. Hosanna Mahaley, Washington state superintendent of education nominee and Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, attend a news conference in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
From left; De'Shawn Wright, Washington deputy mayor for education nominee. Hosanna Mahaley, Washington state superintendent of education nominee and Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, attend a news conference in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson recently unveiled a new strategic plan for the schools, including increasing enrollment and improving the graduation rate. Kavitha Cardoza catches up with Henderson and takes a look at some of the ambitious goals the chancellor has outlined for herself, city teachers and students. Following are highlights of their conversation.

Henderson on her ambitious plans to get more D.C. kids to graduate: "We actually believe there are three key levers. First one is about talent. We have been relentlessly focused on ensuring that there's a highly effective teacher in every single classroom, and a highly effective school leader in every single building. We know if we're able to leverage that highly effective staff in some different ways, that we can increase our positive impact on our students.

The second dimension is time. We know through lots of studies and by watching some of our charter partners who have been very successful with a similar population that they actually spend much more time in school than we do.

The third lever is around technology. We believe technology has the ability to do an incredible set of things. One, motivate students who are previously unmotivated. Two, allow teachers to differentiate across different levels in one classroom. Three, allow for pacing and customization to be individualized so kids can go as fast as they need to, or as slow as they need to."

Part of Henderson's plan includes increasing the graduation rate from 53 percent to 75 percent. However, last year, the budget for summer programs was cut, and DCPS could only serve a fraction of the students who needed help. Henderson talks about what she will do if that happens again: "Previously we've tried to provide as many summer school slots for as many young people as possible, sometimes serving up to 12,000. But in an era where we can now only serve about 6,000 young people, it has forced us to become strategic. So we're targeting summer school toward three groups of people:

First, our elementary school students who are significantly behind.

Second, our middle schoolers and our folks going into high school. We know if they can come out of eighth grade with these skills to do algebra 1 and English 1, that they will be successful in high school.

Third, our high school, potential graduates. So young people, if they only have a couple more credits to complete, they can use summer school to ensure they are able to graduate on time."

Henderson on how much more money the plan will cost, and where the funding will come from: "There's not a total dollar amount. When I think about cost, I think about how we're using our existing resources in a more effective way. So we didn't ask for additional funds this year. We actually turned in a budget request that maintained funding at last year's levels. But what we are doing is figuring out what doesn't work, and disinvesting in that, so that we can reinvest in things that we think work."

Henderson on whether she's willing to link the results--or how effective she's been in reaching her goals--with her salary: "Sure, I'm happy to be held accountable in the same way. I honestly believe that without a plan, people are rowing the boat in very different directions. We want the community and our stakeholders to be unambiguous about where we are trying to go, so we put numbers to it-- what gets measured gets done. There's no way if we haven't done things in years one, or two, or three, that in years four or five, we could pull this out. So you will know clearly whether we are on track to meeting these goals by the measurables that we've laid out, and if I'm not doing a great job, or if I'm not progressing toward those goals, then I'm not the right person to lead us in this District.

[Music: "Don't Stop Me Now" by Manhattan Jazz Quintet from Come Together]


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