- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mayor Vincent. C. Gray’s pick to lead the District’s public school system received open support from several council members on Thursday, despite mixed reviews from the public and varying opinions about her links to the prior regime.

Mr. Gray named Kaya Henderson acting chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools on March 9, prompting a series of “unprecedented” public hearings in the community before a formal vetting before the Committee of the Whole, Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said.

Ms. Henderson told the committee she is dedicated to fighting truancy, establishing a “culture of respect” and addressing school funding inequities.

“We should have one of the highest-performing school districts in this country,” Ms. Henderson said.

The public schools, she said, will be a “pre-eminent place” if she is permitted to do her job effectively.

The hearing was marked by a widespread belief that Ms. Henderson will be approved by the full council, despite an air of concern about transparency in school budgeting and student progress east of the Anacostia River.

“The council is going to confirm Ms. Henderson,” council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said from the dais.

“I would like for you to be confirmed expeditiously,” Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, echoed hours later.

Yet the specter of Michelle Rhee, the previous chancellor under former mayor Adrian M. Fenty, loomed large in the proceedings. Witnesses voiced concerns about Ms. Henderson’s link to the former administration, marked by teacher downsizing and modern approaches to education. Critics also wanted a national search for the position, arguing Ms. Henderson would rise to the top if she is the best candidate.

“This is a rubber-stamp confirmation,” said William P. Wilson, who identified himself as a volunteer in Ward 7 schools.

Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said Ms. Henderson has no enemies in his organization, but noted he is committed to 266 teachers who were “wrongfully terminated” in 2009 downsizing.

Mr. Saunders declined to take a position for or against Ms. Henderson.

Daniel del Pielago, education organizer for Empower DC, told the council he worried about education strategies that emphasize test scores. Would public school students be well-educated, he asked, “or robots that can spit back out information they’ve been made to remember?”

Ms. Henderson said there have been positive developments throughout the city, including top candidates for leadership positions at schools in poorer sections of the city.

“I want to go to a community where I’m needed most,” the candidates say, according to Ms. Henderson. “I wanna go to Ward 7, I wanna go to Ward 8.”

Ms. Henderson, 40, is a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University, according to her DCPS biography.

She taught Spanish at a South Bronx middle school before becoming a recruiter for Teach for America and executive director of Teach for America-DC.

Beginning in 2000, she worked on recruiting, training and policy improvement efforts before being named deputy chancellor in 2007.