Hey! Kaya Henderson is not Michelle Rhee!

Flickr: Barry S.

Dunbar High, marching at Obama's Inauguration.

Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson wants everyone to know that she is a different, separate person from her predecessor, Michelle Rhee. Here’s a snippet of Bill Turque’s Q+A with Henderson:

BT: Do you have many “What Would Michelle Do” moments?

KH: Not many, maybe for two reasons. Michelle and I worked together for a zillion years. In many cases I know what Michelle would do. But the real question is what will Kaya do? Because everything that Michelle does is not what Kaya would do.

BT: What’s Kaya done that Michelle probably would not have done?

KH::I think probably Dunbar. I think Michelle might have provided Friends of Bedford more opportunities to correct the situation at Dunbar. I don’t know for sure…

BT: There is the view that philosophically there is no difference between you and Michelle Rhee, that you both believe in the singular importance of teachers as the determinant of success inside the school, and that poverty has been used as an excuse for mediocre education. Is that true?

KH: I think we’re philosophically aligned, but we’re two different people. Right? Because we have philosophical alignment doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything the same way. Poverty matters. However, I can’t control poverty. And I have a budget that allows me to deal with kids from sometime in the morning to sometime in the evening. So within the realm of my control I can only do what I’m going do.

Kaya Henderson: A Hugger and a Closer

Flickr: ghbrett

"Hugs": a word I don't associate with Michelle A. Rhee.

Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is a friend of Michelle Rhee’s; Rhee, the controversial former broom-wielder, is also Henderson’s mentor. And yet, Henderson does things a little differently:

Since becoming interim chancellor after Rhee’s abrupt departure in October, Henderson has brought a more naturally accessible style to the job. At meetings around town, her entrance often comes with a broad smile and a round of hugs. “She wasn’t a hugger,” Henderson said of her predecessor.

Some skeptics have already suggested that Henderson is simply “Rhee-light.” But friends say those who who doubt her toughness, or her resolve to preserve Rhee’s emphasis on teacher quality and accountability, are underestimating Henderson.

“People are just starting to learn about her because she was under such a shadow with Michelle Rhee,” said Jacques Patterson, chairman of the Ward 8 Democrats and project director at the Federal City Council, an influential group of business and civic leaders active in education reform. “Kaya is very focused, very clear thinking and knows where she wants to go. She can be as hard charging as Michelle Rhee but she won’t be a bull in a china shop, breaking china.”

See? She’s a “hugger”. As for “closer”, this is what happened after a meeting with students, staff members and parents from River Terrace Elementary in Northeast, a school marked for closure:
Continue reading

Reversing Rhee’s Direction on Hardy Middle School

Flickr: Steve Hutchinson

Now reading: “Hardy Middle School principal is reassigned” by Bill Turque at the Washington Post. It struck me as I was reading it that while this is merely a “news” article that most of us will skim through as we go about our day, for the mostly African-American kids who trudged through “more than a year of turmoil at one of the city’s few academically successful public middle schools”, this could be awful– with far-reaching consequences.

I went to Catholic school for most of my life, and once, in 7th grade, I asked a question in Math class that annoyed my teacher so much, she literally threw the book at me–as in, she hurled the textbook she had been consulting at my head. She had horrible aim, so I was fine, but I will never forget how embarrassing that moment was, and how everyone in my class reacted. I have always thought that the reason why I hate and am awful at math (after excelling at it, as a child) was because of the shame and memory of that outlandish and anomalous experience. This affects me to this day, even as I’m writing for you on DCentric– I tense up when I come across statistic-filled reports from think tanks or articles dense with numbers. Nearly 24 years after an awful middle school experience, what happened to me as a pre-teen makes me, in a very real way, less capable as an adult. Who knows how Hardy Middle School students have been impacted, and how a year of “turmoil” will affect their futures?

Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced Wednesday that she has reassigned the new principal of Hardy Middle School, acknowledging that poor decisions by the District had contributed to more than a year of turmoil at one of the city’s few academically successful public middle schools.

In a take-home letter distributed to students at dismissal, Henderson said Dana Nerenberg will return full time to Hyde-Addison Elementary, where she also serves as principal. The move rolls back one of Michelle A. Rhee’s most bitterly disputed decisions as chancellor, to replace veteran Hardy principal Patrick Pope in December 2009

The transition to new leadership has left the Hardy community badly fractured. Some returning parents said the school environment had deteriorated, with increases in fights, tardiness and disrespectful behavior toward staff…

Continue reading

DCPS Bonuses Come With Strings

Flickr: Adam Holloway

According to WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza, “Of DCPS Teachers Offered Bonuses, 40 Percent Say: ‘No, Thanks‘”:

One of former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s signature initiatives was to reward good teachers with bonuses of up to $25,000. To qualify for the full amount, teachers have to score high marks on their evaluations, teach at schools with majority low-income children, and teach a tested grade and certain subjects. Bonuses were offered to 636 teachers, but 40 percent turned down the money…

I read this and immediately wondered why anyone would turn down extra money right now. Well, because:

But these teachers had to agree to give up some job security. For example, they could lose their jobs because of program changes or enrollment declines at their schools.

Diane Terrell, a teacher at Stoddert Elementary School, refused her $5,000. She says a bonus shouldn’t come with strings attached.

“You think you can come and wave money in front of us and we will give up everything to you. I could not do that,” she says.

Two teachers were eligible for $25,000, the maximum amount. Both accepted the money.

Sorry, Ron Brown Middle School. Wrong Number.


I think this is the robot who keeps me hanging on the telephone.

I have a problem. Relative to everything else in my life, it’s minor, but it’s still frustrating.

Every day, at least once, but often twice, I get a phone call from a local phone number. It’s a recorded message with no information on how to respond, which is what compounds my frustration.

“Hello, Brown family. There is no aftercare today. Please ensure that your children are picked up promptly after school.”

Except…I don’t have children, unless we count my puppy. And she is home-schooled. I’m also so clueless that until this week, I thought they were trying to reach a D.C. public school parent named Brown– until I realized that DCPS probably doesn’t have the resources to record every parents’ name, for precious, individualized robo-calls. “A-ha!”, I thought. The SCHOOL is named “Brown”!

I’ve had the same phone number for 12 years, ever since I moved to this city. I’m aware that because of this and a few other factors, the proclivity for me to get random phone calls is high, so I try to be patient. At the same time, I’m concerned that there’s a parent out there who isn’t getting critically important information, that will affect their kid’s future; two weeks ago, one of the messages was about attendance and needing to speak to a teacher or administrator, immediately. Was my mistakenly-attributed child cutting school? And more depressing than that– why hadn’t this parent realized that they had provided an incorrect phone number? Didn’t they realize that they weren’t getting updates? Did they…not care?

Continue reading

Kaya Henderson to “smooth things out”

Perhaps the city residents who miss Michelle Rhee shouldn’t worry so much? Here’s the Washington Examiner on interim D.C. schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson:

“People keep asking me how I’m different from Michelle Rhee. I’m different than her because she’s a petite Asian woman and I’m a large black girl,” Henderson told The Washington Examiner.

But the style of leadership that was necessary in June 2007 is different than what people crave now, Henderson says. “Rhee had to come in and break some china,” she says. “We’re tired of breaking china.” Rhee’s job was to create a revolution of reform; Henderson’s job is to smooth things out.

So she smiles more than Rhee, and she meets with skeptical education boards in the various wards, broaching topics like “healing” and “acknowledging missteps.”

But as Rhee’s deputy chancellor, Henderson was silently pulling the strings of the most high-profile, and most controversial, reforms that Rhee — and Mayor Adrian Fenty — took the public hit for.

Henderson was D.C. Public Schools’ chief negotiator of the union contract, which allowed Rhee to fire 165 teachers rated ineffective during classroom observations. Henderson led the team that developed Impact, the teacher evaluation tool that determined those firings.

D.C. Budget vs. The Healthy Schools Act


Mmm, cruciferous veggies!

Balancing the city’s budget is going to require some painful cuts in spending…but who should get less? If you’re concerned about how cuts could affect D.C.’s youngest residents, this may be of interest to you (via DC Action for Children):

A last-minute opportunity to take action for DC’s Kids! The DC Council is holding a hearing tomorrow morning on the Mayor’s gap-closing budget, and more than $4.6 million in funding for the recently passed Healthy Schools Act is on the chopping block.

The Healthy Schools Act was passed this summer to help ensure that children in DC Public Schools receive fresh, healthy meals in the classroom and comprehensive wellness services to combat childhood obesity and malnutrition. With 43 percent of District students overweight or obese, we can’t afford to squander this progress to fix a short-term budget gap.

I know that it’s almost 4:30 pm, but I just saw this and there’s still time to call your Councilmember if you are so moved. Readers: are there other, similar programs you are worried about, with regards to gap-closing?

Charter Schools: Like Seeing a Dentist for a Heart Condition?

Bread for the World

Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School, D.C.

While I was reading anything and everything last night, to curate our morning link roundup, I stumbled across this:

If doctors were treated like teachers:

1. “Charter hospitals” could certify “smart people” as qualified to begin practicing medicine without any prior experience in the field if they had had “some business background.”

2. Since a “doctor” can “doctor” anything, a cardiologist would be on staff at a hospital in place of a urologist when there was a shortage of urologists. The cardiologist could “learn on the job.”…

3. Whenever a doctor gave a patient a prescription, the patient’s parents could come to the doctor’s office demanding he or she change the prescription since the parents “knew better.”

4. Because of a shortage of doctors, Mayor Bloomberg would institute a summer “crash course” in medicine for people who had no background in the field but “liked playing doctor” when they were little. Those who got through the six-week course would then be considered qualified to care for the most severely ill patients since no other doctors would want to do the job.

Continue reading