Chancellor Kaya Henderson used her “State of the D.C. Public Schools” address Thursday evening to celebrate a “turning tide” that she said is beginning to transform the city’s long-struggling school system.
Enrollment has steadied after years of decline, and crumbling schools have been transformed by multi-million-dollar renovations, she said, praising the “renewed commitment, investment and excitement that is changing the face of education in DCPS.”
The school system still has a long way to go. Fewer than half of students are proficient in reading, according to standardized tests, and fewer than six in 10 students graduate from high school on time.
And while DCPS enrollment increased this year, the city’s charter schools grew even faster, continuing a tilt toward charters that some parents and activists fear is weakening neighborhood schools, particularly in some of the District’s poorest neighborhoods.
Henderson acknowledged “challenges ahead” but focused mostly on her optimistic vision for the future. Speaking on Thursday before a packed auditorium at the newly modernized Cardozo Education Campus in Columbia Heights, she said progress will come from investing in “great educators,” “rigorous academic content,” and “motivated students and engaged families.”
She said that the school system wants to increase study-abroad opportunities and improve career and technical education. And officials are “working on plans to rethink high schools,” she said, echoing an idea she's floated previously for citywide, theme-based academies.
“Close your eyes and imagine with me a different D.C. Public Schools,” she said. “We’re on the right track.”
Several parents in the audience said that while Henderson’s vision is attractive, it’s still not clear how it will translate into on-the-ground improvements in troubled schools.
“I didn’t hear anything about how she’s going to help our students east of the river,” said Wendy Glenn of Southeast Washington. “It just didn’t resonate with me.”
Glenn said her grandson will be old enough for pre-kindergarten next year, and she has no intention of sending him to the “failing” neighborhood school to which he is assigned.
D.C. Council Member David Grosso praised the event, which offered a showcase of DCPS programs following Henderson’s speech.
“I hope DCPS does more things like this to show off the positive side of the system,” Grosso said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get more parents engaged and involved.”
Read the text of Henderson’s speech here.