- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Kaya Henderson is stepping down after more than five years as chancellor of the District of Columbia’s public schools, ending a long tenure that included improvements in standardized test scores but a stubborn achievement gap between black and white students.

Henderson, 45, succeeded the polarizing Michelle Rhee in the position after serving as Rhee’s top deputy, and she continued her predecessor’s aggressive education-reform policies. But she had a more low-key style and better relationships with parents, teachers and elected officials. She was also praised by top U.S. education officials and built a national reputation for her work to improve city schools.

Henderson has fired hundreds of teachers under a system that evaluates them in part based on their students’ test scores. The teachers who fare best under the evaluation system receive bonus pay and other awards.

Under Henderson, city students have improved their performances on federal standardized tests known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” but the achievement gap between white students and non-Asian minorities has remained persistently high and has increased by some measures. The gains in test scores have also coincided with the city becoming wealthier and the white population increasing.

Henderson and Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that the chancellor will step down effective Oct. 1. John Davis, currently the city’s chief of schools, will serve as interim chancellor while Bowser conducts a national search for her replacement.

Henderson has not decided what she’ll do next, said a spokeswoman, Michelle Lerner.

“Simply put, I am ready to take on new challenges,” Henderson said in a letter to the school community.

Bowser, a Democrat, campaigned on a promise to retain Henderson, a decision that reflected the chancellor’s popularity and political clout. That stood in contrast to Rhee, who resigned under pressure after Bowser’s predecessor, Vincent Gray, was elected in 2010.

“I am incredibly grateful to Kaya for her nine years of service to our students, our schools and our city,” Bowser said in a statement. “DCPS is a very different place today than it was when Kaya joined our school system in 2007. DCPS is the fastest-improving urban school district in the country.”

One measure of Henderson’s success is enrollment: The city’s public schools have nearly 49,000 students, up from 45,000 in 2010. Another 39,000 students are enrolled in city charter schools, which are not under Henderson’s control.

But Henderson’s tenure was not entirely without controversy. The Associated Press revealed in April that Henderson asked the city’s troubled food-service contractor for a $100,000 contribution to a gala honoring teachers and made similar requests from other companies that do business of the city. The report triggered an inquiry by the city’s ethics board.


Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/ben-nuckols.

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