Even before USA Today ran its March 28 story on test score erasures, Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson was trying to rally her staff. “Tons of negative press is swirling around right now,” she said, according to notes taken at her monthly meeting with principals on March 23.

“You know why it is swirling now?” she was quoted as saying in the notes, which a participant shared with The Post. “To knock us off our game. So keep your eyes on the prize — delivering to our kids.”

Henderson said in an interview this week that she didn’t mean to suggest the story was written for that purpose, only that the timing was unfortunate given the beginning of this year’s D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (or DC CAS) testing window on Monday

“I find that the timing of the article provides a significant distraction as we enter the testing window, and I encouraged principals to stay focused on the work at hand — ensuring that our students and teachers are ready to show what they’ve learned this year,” she said.

On Friday afternoon, Henderson followed up with this e-mail to principals and administrators:

Dear DCPS Staff:

Over the past week, I have had a lot of opportunity to reflect on how proud I am to be a part of DCPS and how impressed I am with the work of the staff in our schools. I realize that the recent press coverage of our test results has eroded confidence in our schools. However, when I reflect on the tremendous gains we have made, gains that are substantiated by the results that we saw in the National Assessment of Education Progress as well as the DC-CAS, I am sure that we are on course to make DCPS one of the best urban school districts in the country.

As you go through the hard work of preparing for DC-CAS testing, I would like to thank you for your efforts and to provide a little more context on the recent allegations.

Many of you have reached out to me to tell me about the rigorous preparations you are going through to make sure that your students’ achievement is reflected in your test results this year. I am so grateful to you all for the work you have done to ensure students are well prepared and that they will benefit from a secure test environment. Thank you for the hard work you have done on behalf of our students.

The one frustration I feel as a result of the recent allegations is that it has sullied the reputation of our hard working teachers and principals. The press story conveyed a picture of a school district where cheating is commonplace and even named schools where the Office of the State Secretary of Education (OSSE) identified no areas of concern. In fact, OSSE identified fewer than 2% of our students whose test results warranted additional review. DCPS retained an outside firm, Caveon LLC, to review test administration at all schools OSSE identified for further review. They concluded that there was no evidence of cheating. It saddens me that after being cleared of wrongdoing, our schools must again face allegations. This is why I have requested an investigation by the DC Inspector General. I feel that only through this rigorous investigation can we clear the names of our staff.

Be assured that if the Inspector General identifies any evidence of cheating, I will take swift and decisive action.

While this experience has been painful for all of us, it has only deepened my resolve to prove that our principals, our teachers, and our students can produce truly excellent results. I thank you all for your hard work.