Kaya Henderson wants to blow up the city schools?
Well, it’s not exactly as that sounds.
When people describe D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, they often say she’s “Michelle Rhee with a smile.” And we think most of them mean that as a compliment.
Just more than a year ago Henderson succeeded Rhee as chancellor when Rhee and then-Mayor-elect Vincent Gray decided they couldn’t work together. Henderson had been Rhee’s deputy for the previous three years and had a major say in the new teacher union contract and work rules that Rhee is credited with establishing.
On Friday’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, we noted that a lot of serious issues remain in the city schools but that the tone of rancor seems to have moderated sharply. “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Henderson said with a hearty laugh during the “Politics Hour” program. She said she’s more willing to meet with people and discuss things rather than follow Rhee’s more confrontational style. But make no mistake, that doesn’t mean Henderson sees herself as soft.
We were talking about the need to close more excess school buildings, the need for more teacher training and the need to revamp education programs to appeal to tech-savvy students who are bored with old-fashioned school lecture system.
“These kids come with a different set of sensibilities,” Henderson said, “a different set of things that engage them.”
She said the education establishment can’t dither.
“We have to blow up school,” she said, offering that new instruction.
“It’s primary focus this year is on literacy,” Henderson said. “Kindergarten through the 12th grade, we are doubling down on teaching reading, exposing our children to literature, both fiction and nonfiction.”
It seems that school systems are always inventing new “great leaps forward” and other slogans of bureaucratic jargon. It seems Henderson just wants to be sure all students can read and then more substantial education can follow.