- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2010

D.C. Schools Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she will review union concerns about the teacher-evaluation policy instituted by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, though she insisted that evaluations themselves are not on the negotiating table.

Ms. Henderson also said she was unaware that Miss Rhee, her former boss, had unveiled a proposal to give vouchers to D.C. special-education students who don’t attend city schools, which would enable D.C. Public Schools to better predict tuition and transportation spending and stay within the system’s budget.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” Ms. Henderson said in an interview with The Washington Times.

She said her administration “has really been about building capacity” to keep special-ed students within D.C. Public Schools, where “disinvestment” has led to years of ongoing litigation.

“Children are best served in their own neighborhoods and communities,” she said.

Ms. Henderson said she had breakfast last week with new Washington Teachers’ Union President Nathan Saunders, and she agreed to review his concerns about the teacher evaluation system, called IMPACT, which uses master educators to grade teachers on such things as classroom instruction. How students fare on standardized tests also is considered.

But she said there is no such thing as a “perfect” evaluation tool, and the continued use of IMPACT is “nonnegotiable.”

Mr. Saunders has said he will use the courts to protect his members’ jobs.

“It’s not always in the best interests of our membership to do something that is politically expedient,” Mr. Saunders said in a recent interview. “The trend in the U.S. is less job security. I’m moving in the opposite direction.

“My job is to protect members,” he added.

In her Times interview, Ms. Henderson said she and Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray are already on the same page about one important issue — having a strong deputy mayor in charge of education in order to create seamless academic programs from pre-kindergarten through higher education.

In her second month of an eight-month agreement with Mr. Gray, Ms. Henderson said Mr. Gray’s birth-to-24 education guidepost is on the right track because current education policy is fragmented among the public and nonprofit sectors and among public, private and charter schools.

“We’re all doing our work in silos,” Ms. Henderson said, “but kids go in and out of these systems. The question is how to work together, and it resonates with [Mr. Gray’s] One City theme.

“I only control the 123 D.C. public schools, but I do believe a strong deputy mayor for education could put a seamless system in place,” she added.

The timing is right, Ms. Henderson said, because current and future fiscal woes, including a looming $400 deficit, mean city officials must find ways to curb spending without reversing the slight academic progress that D.C. students have made on standardized tests in recent years.

“As we look at shrinking resources, it’s time to look at things that work … and get rid of things that aren’t working,” she said.

Mr. Gray, who has said he wants public and charter schools to share their best practices, will make additional appointments to his incoming administration this week.

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