The D.C. mayor has announced a 17-member committee that will help select the next chancellor of D.C. Public Schools — the first step in tapping a replacement for the current head of the school system, Kaya Henderson.
Henderson, who has led the school system for more than five years, announced in June that she would step down from her post on Oct. 1. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) immediately named John Davis, the system’s chief of schools, as the interim chancellor. City officials say they hope to name the replacement in October, though he or she likely wouldn’t start until after 2016-2017 school year concludes.
Bowser will ultimately nominate the new chancellor, but the DCPS Rising Leadership Committee will meet three times over the course of the selection process to make a recommendation to the mayor. The committee will provide feedback and input to the mayor, and determine what they think the priorities for the school system should be.
“We are moving full steam ahead in our search for the next DCPS Chancellor,” Bowser said in a statement.
The committee, which Bowser convened on July 29, is comprised of local business leaders, parents, teachers, the head of the teachers union, a principal and a student from Woodson High School in Ward 7.
Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University, and Gina Adams, a DCPS graduate and the senior vice president for government affairs at FedEx, are co-chairing the committee.
The committee and mayor have a tough decision to make: Do they select someone who has worked under Henderson to replace her, or do they go outside the city to find the system’s next chancellor?
Henderson has been credited with leading a troubled and under-enrolled school district through rapid improvements with test scores improving, graduation rates jumping and with more academic and extracurricular options available in the city’s schools.
But critics argue that Henderson’s achievements — and the reforms initiated by her predecessor, Michelle Rhee — have not reached the city’s neediest students. The school system’s national standardized test scores have been among the fastest-improving in the nation, but there are still stark achievement gaps between white and black and wealthy and poor students.
In a June interview, Bowser lauded the chancellor’s accomplishments but did not signal whether she would hire a new chancellor whose leadership approach mirrors Henderson’s.
“Part of searching for a new chancellor will be taking the pulse of the community, getting feedback from stakeholders, and moving forward,” Bowser said.
McGuire, who noted that many Trinity Washington University students are graduates of the D.C. school system, said the committee will not go in with a bias toward internal or external candidates. She applauded Henderson and said she wanted to see a new chancellor who could listen to the community and school leaders and build off Henderson’s reforms.
“We have to continue the kind of progressive reforms that Henderson was moving along with,” McGuire said. “It would be disastrous to have a clean break and start over again.”
McGuire said notable progress in education takes significant time, and Henderson should not be blamed for the persistent achievement gap during her tenure.
“Educational progress takes generations. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary,” she said. “There are pockets of inequality and poverty that no school system can solve alone. We need a chancellor like Kaya Henderson who is dedicated to solving that gap, but we must be realistic in how long it takes to do so.”
In addition to the three committee meetings, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles will hold three community engagement forums so other community stakeholders can say what they want to see in the next chancellor. Each committee member must attend at least one community session. The first community meeting is Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Roosevelt High School in Petworth.
The city has also hired a global search firm, Boyden Global, to present the mayor with applicants from D.C. and around the country. The firm will also make a recommendation to the mayor.
Once the mayor makes her selection, it will go before the D.C. Council for final approval.