The public school system in the nation’s capital finds itself in an unexpected leadership change. Washington, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who has piloted the troubled school system for more than five years, announced her resignation on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser appointed the current chief of schools, John Davis, as interim chancellor and will conduct a national search for Henderson’s replacement in the fall.
Henderson came into the school system in 2007 as a deputy to the former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, an aggressive reformer with a confrontational approach. Rhee was among the first school district leaders to use standardized test scores and other metrics to decide whether to fire teachers and principals.
The reforms continued under Henderson’s leadership, though she was less confrontational in her approach than Rhee. Henderson led the way among large urban school districts in embracing the controversial Common Core. According to The Post, she’s also credited with promoting initiatives to help poor and minority students, as well as making progress toward closing the racial achievement gap on test scores.
The Post reported that Henderson expects her reforms to continue, because the school district is staffed with like-minded administrators who share her views on education.
“I set about to build an institution where one person leaving wouldn’t matter anymore,” Henderson said. “I have a team that is raring and ready to go, and I think just because people don’t know them doesn’t mean they’re not capable. People didn’t know me, either.”
Together, Henderson and Rhee led the school system for a decade. Mayor Bowser said she wants to continue reform efforts, the Post reports.
“While we have made progress, no one should think that we are stopping,” Bowser said. “We want to send a strong signal that we’re putting a foot even further down on the gas when it comes to public school reform.”
While Henderson is widely praised, she has also faced criticism on whether her reforms have truly helped the city’s most disadvantaged students. And while test scores have improved, a significant gap remains along racial and socioeconomic lines.
Her tenure was not scandal free. WTOP-Radio reported an Associated Press investigation that said Henderson asked a food-service contractor for a $100,000 contribution for a teachers’ gala. The problem was that a whistleblower lawsuit had accused the company of cheating the school system out of $19 million and served spoiled food to students.
Her exit isn’t immediate. Henderson plans to fade away over the next three months, as she looks to the future. WAMU-Radio said the former Spanish teacher is in no rush.
“I want to spend some time traveling. I want to learn what else is out there,” she stated.
Henderson added that leading a school district is all-consuming, leaving little time for anything else.