Local: Education

D.C. Council says it will approve Henderson as new school chief

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Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner
Seven D.C. Council members said they would vote to confirm Kaya Henderson as permanent chief of D.C. Public Schools, making the mayor's choice a lock after a selection process that some described as "rubber-stamping."

Even the parents and community members who testified against Henderson's confirmation at a hearing Thursday understood that it was a done deal, five days before the council's final vote scheduled for June 21.

"We submit that the D.C. Council has made up its mind," said Aona Jefferson, president of the Council of School Officers, which represents principals and other administrators.

Jefferson said she would look forward and ask the council to "monitor the activities of D.C. Public Schools and hold Ms. Henderson accountable," adding that many reforms undertaken by Henderson and predecessor Michelle Rhee had "sucked the soul out of our school system and in some ways demoralized a lot of school employees."

The council tossed Henderson some softball questions, such as Chairman Kwame Brown's opener: "What is your vision for D.C. Public Schools?" They also hit Henderson with tough thinkers, like who -- between DCPS and the Washington Teachers' Union -- was the true advocate for students. And Henderson was peppered with a number of specific school queries from council members doing their homework for their wards back home. And if she'd consider putting chocolate milk back in the schools.

But most lines of questioning were accompanied by assurances that the council member would vote to confirm Henderson.

"I think I would be the seventh announced vote," Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham said. "I want you to remember that."

Mayor Vincent Gray nominated Henderson, who was deputy chancellor under Rhee, for the permanent post in March, after she served as the interim chancellor for four months. There was consensus among Gray's selection panel that Henderson, a former Bronx school teacher and Teach For America executive, was qualified for the job and that her leadership style was more engaging than Rhee's. But many observers decried the absence of a nationwide search.

At the hearing -- which ran nearly eight hours -- both supporters and opponents of Henderson's confirmation discussed her personality, experience, budget decisions, and development of Impact, the teacher evaluation tool that has polarized educators.

Roger Caruth, a parent of two children at J.O. Wilson Elementary in Northeast, said his endorsement of Henderson "speaks to our children's joy of walking into the school building every morning and their eagerness to tell their school stories when they get home."

But somber notes were struck. Many accusations were racially charged. Parents at Northeast's River Terrace Elementary School couldn't believe that Henderson considered closing their school. Those from Burr- ville Elementary, also in Northeast, were puzzled over their longtime, popular principal being let go.

William P. Wilson, chairman of the Ward 7 education council, said he was ending his 25-year volunteering career. "I don't think that I am really making a difference, because this system is going to do what it wants to do," Wilson said. "This is a rubber-stamp confirmation. You know as well as I that Kaya Henderson will be confirmed."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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Lisa Gartner

Examiner Staff Writer - education
The Washington Examiner