Chancellor Kaya Henderson says she won’t leave D.C. for New York City


D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
December 13, 2013

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who had been rumored to be on the shortlist of candidates under consideration for New York’s top schools job, told employees Friday that although she has spoken with Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, she has no intention of leaving Washington.

“I love this city. I love our students. I love working with all of you, and I am not about to leave when our students have so much riding on the work we do every day,” Henderson wrote in a letter to central office employees Friday, first reported on the Web site of WAMU (88.5 FM).

“I love New York City — it is where my career in education began 20 years ago – but nothing can compare to the opportunities and responsibilities that we have here in Washington, D.C.”

Henderson is one of two local schools chiefs who have been mentioned as possible candidates. The other is the Montgomery County school system’s Joshua P. Starr, who has gained national prominence with his skepticism of the same standardized testing that Henderson relies on to judge teachers, principals and schools.

De Blasio has said that such emphasis on tests and preparation is “poisoning our system.” He also has expressed a general distaste for the kind of education policies Henderson embraces. That he would be interested in her as a possible chancellor surprised many education observers.

In her letter, Henderson said de Blasio’s interest is testament to the fact that the District’s brand of school reform is working. “We really are a district where every measure of success is going in the right direction. The fact that NYC is looking to us for leadership is just one more indication that we have the right approach.”

With a mayoral race underway in the District, Henderson’s future here is not entirely up to her. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has showed unwavering support for her leadership and approach, but other candidates have been far more critical.

Here is the full text of Henderson’s letter:

Dear Central Office,

You have probably read in the papers by now that my name has shown up on the short list of possible new Chancellors for New York City Schools and that I have spoken with Mayor-elect DeBlasio about his education plans going forward. The New York Times, The Daily News, and EdWeek have all reported that my name has been in the mix and our local media has joined the speculation as well.

First, I want to be very clear with all of you that this is wonderful recognition for the work we have done. I have spoken with Mr. DeBlasio. I was flattered by his call and I absolutely love that DCPS is being recognized as a leader in high-quality urban education. The Chancellorship of NYC schools is, in many ways, the pinnacle of school district jobs. With over one million students, 80,000 teachers, and almost 2000 schools, NYC schools is not just the biggest district, but of a completely different scale than DCPS.

It is a tremendous testament to the work that each of you has done over the past three years that NYC wants to replicate our successes. Of course, we have great gains in student achievement that we can point to as demonstrated in the DC CAS and the NAEP. We also have more students taking and passing AP classes and higher SAT scores than at any time in the past five years. At the same time, we have increased our student enrollment, have more students who like their school than ever before, and have reduced our number of truant students. We have the best teaching workforce of any urban district. We really are a district where every measure of success is going in the right direction.

The fact that NYC is looking to us for leadership is just one more indication that we have the right approach.

The second thing that you should know about the Chancellorship of NYC is that I will not take the job. I love New York City — it is where my career in education began 20 years ago – but nothing can compare to the opportunities and responsibilities that we have here in Washington, D.C. We have helped take our students so far in the past few years and I can’t possibly leave before I see how much farther they can go. Our ambitious Capital Commitment goals for 2017 are now well within reach and I am excited to continue to work with you as we achieve them. I love this city. I love our students. I love working with all of you, and I am not about to leave when our students have so much riding on the work we do every day.

So please, take a moment to see the fact that we are part of the conversation about the next NYC chancellor for what it is. It is a compliment to us for the hard work we all do. It is a testament to the fact that we have chosen the right course and we have stuck to it. It is an endorsement of our strategy.

And that is what it will remain. I love D.C. and I’m not about to leave. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have the best job in the world.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Henderson

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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