WASHINGTON - 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.
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In a letter to the D.C. Public Schools community, Henderson wrote:
Dear DCPS Parents and Community Members,
On October 1, 2016, I will be leaving my role as Chancellor of DCPS. Simply put, I am ready to take on new challenges, and I have complete confidence that the team we have built at DCPS is prepared to drive our work forward under new leadership.
The past nine years have been a true gift. Since I began my work at DCPS, first as Deputy Chancellor and then as Chancellor, I have had opportunities that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Just as it is for our students, the things that stand out for me most are not our remarkable statistical accomplishments or our rising test scores. The memories that I hold dear are of the people I have met and the experiences that I have had during my time with DCPS.
I will remember the amazing educators that I have seen in action over the past nine years, like those in the autism classroom I visited at Burroughs ES this year or the enthusiastic staff I saw entering the Ballou HS campus when it was first rebuilt.
I will remember the amazing principals who dedicate themselves to the work of creating great schools for our students every day -- principals who know every student's name, and work to address every student's needs.
I will remember the passionate and committed parents I have had the pleasure of working with. While we may not have always agreed, I have always admired your dedication to your students.
Perhaps most importantly, I will remember our students and the light that glows within each of them as they learn and grow. I have seen students visit foreign countries, learn to read, learn to ride a bike, and meet the president and first lady. Through each of these experiences, and hundreds of others, I saw students' understanding of their world expand.
That is what I will miss most of all as I move on to new challenges.
Over the past nine years, DCPS has been through many changes, from new Chancellors to new Mayors to new principals. Through all of these changes, the district has thrived. With my departure on October 1, 2016, the district will have the chance to thrive under a new leader.
I am grateful to Mayor Bowser, both for the opportunity to continue to lead our school district, and for her support during my transition. I am pleased that Mayor Bowser has selected Chief of Schools, John Davis, one of many amazing DCPS team members, to serve as interim Chancellor beginning on October 1. John has over two decades of experience in education as a teacher, principal, and district leader. He also is a DCPS parent, and has a strong commitment to serving all our students. I expect many of our team members, including principals and central office staff, to continue their work under John's leadership.
I am proud of the work we have done together and I am excited to see our district continue to thrive.