June 16, 2011

Moving Forward Together - A Message from Kaya Henderson 

Great Schools, Great People, Great Connections

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Dear Friend,

For the past 14 years, I have been in the District working in education and building relationships with people across the city – from students and teachers, to parents and community members. These relationships have helped shape my opinions and inform my perspectives on education in the District.

But my inspiration, the person to whom I owe so much of my philosophy on education and life, is my mother, Kathleen Henderson, an educator who became a school principal at age 30. To know who she was and what she did is to know me and my values.

I grew up on the south side of Mt. Vernon, NY – a poor neighborhood just north of the Bronx. My family lived in the projects there for 47 years. My mother was the first person in our family to go to college, and to purchase a home, all because she had a great public education.

I watched my mother teach, become a principal and hold down two jobs – as an educator and postal employee in the evenings. As I watched, I learned valuable lessons and gained a respect and love for hard work and education.

She taught me to be relentless in all I do, to demand my education and always strive toward excellence. She also taught me the value of a great teacher and the power teachers have to transform lives.

I experienced that power through an excellent high school math teacher and other incredible educators whose support guided me through difficult challenges and onto success. They told me you are bright, you are a hard worker, you are going somewhere. And they made me believe it.

These values guided me through high school and on to Georgetown University, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in leadership.

At Georgetown I received support and guidance from professors who believed in me and further inspired me to exceed the expectations I had for myself.

But most importantly, my teachers and my mother gave me a firm belief in the power of education, which influenced my decision to become a middle school Spanish teacher in the South Bronx and to work tirelessly to improve public education through my work at Teach For America, The New Teacher Project and eventually District of Columbia Public Schools.

My life could have turned out much differently were it not for an excellent public education. I came from a situation that was similar to many of the students that we serve. I believe the reason I am in the position I’m in is because I got a great public education. And I am bound and determined to deliver that same quality of public education to every one of our families in the district – regardless of race and income level.

I want to work together as a community to create a phenomenal urban school district. I envision schools as places where our students are exposed to the arts, music, technology, athletics, community-service, and international opportunities.. This city is rich with such resources, and the diversity of our community provides an opportunity to prepare our young for a world where we benefit from interactions with people from all different corners of the globe.

And I believe we are off to a strong start. We have made steady progress as a school district over the past four years. But we need to turn it up and we need everyone in the District involved in the effort to make DC Public Schools the best they can be, and our students, the highest achieving in the nation.

This city is at its greatest when we pull together. We have an opportunity to unite around our schools. We have partners who provide a wealth of opportunities for our children. We have parents, advocates and volunteers who selflessly offer their time, energy and enthusiasm to support our schools. We have teachers who work relentlessly to motivate and inspire our students. And we have principals whose leadership and dedication continue to foster change.

I look forward to working with you to fulfill the dream of a great education for every child in DC Public Schools. In that spirit, check out the outline of our commitments and the broad contours of the work we see ahead.

Sincerely,

Kaya Henderson
Acting Chancellor

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