In her second annual address on the state of D.C. Public Schools, Chancellor Kaya Henderson said Tuesday night that the District’s public schools are on track to accelerate progress that has been underway in recent years.
Citing topics such as the new Common Core tests, technology initiatives and the recently approved boundary changes, she said the city is working to provide better access to challenging and engaging schools across all neighborhoods.
“I want to be clear,” she said. “We know what we need to do, and we have what it takes to get it done.”
She spoke in an auditorium filled with educators, politicians and parents at H.D. Woodson Senior High School, a recently remodeled school in Northeast Washington that has a new Academy for Science Technology Engineering and Math.
D.C. Public Schools enrollment increased this year to 47,000 students, a five-year high, which the chancellor called a sign that the District’s reforms are working.
The city’s traditional public schools have lost tens of thousands of students over the years, many of them to charter schools that now enroll 44 percent of the city’s public school students.
But Henderson cited Powell Elementary School, near Columbia Heights, as an example of a comeback. She said a new principal and team of teachers have helped reengage the community and tripled enrollment in four years.
Henderson described many investments that the city is making in the school system. This year, she said, middle schools have extra funding for counselors, psychologists and enrichment opportunities. And more schools are rolling out blended learning programs, in which students spend part of the day learning on computers.
About two dozen schools adopted a longer school-day schedule, she said, and the city has invested an extra $5 million in making schools more fun, through extracurricular activities, arts, more sports and field trips.
Henderson emphasized the steady gains the schools have made on national and local standardized tests and acknowledged the magnitude of work that remains to be done.
Just under half — 48 percent — of students were proficient in reading on the 2014 DC CAS tests. The average masks a sharp disparity: The proficiency rate was 92 percent for white students and 38 percent for African Americans. Poor students and those who are learning English posted 37 and 36 percent proficiency rates, respectively.
The school system recently created an Office of Innovation and Research to develop strategies for boosting achievement, particularly for African American and Hispanic male students, the chancellor said.
And officials are working to “completely reimagine” and “re-engineer” city high schools so students can graduate with more marketable skills.
Graylan Hagler, a candidate for D.C. Council who attended the speech, challenged Henderson’s record of progress, pointing to the continued low test scores for nonwhite students.
“In reality, the achievement gap is increasing,” he said.
Parent Tha-Lai Simpson brought her second-grade son to the speech. She transferred him to D.C. public schools after he attended a private kindergarten, a move she called “daunting.”
But Simpson said his first year at Tyler Elementary was positive. She likes the Spanish-language program, the school garden and the community of active parents.
She was glad to hear the chancellor talk about high school reforms because she is beginning to think about her son’s future.
“It’s nice to know it’s improving,” she said.