WASHINGTON - Kaya Henderson served as the head of D.C. Public schools for more than five years. The former schools chancellor is credited with improving test scores, graduation rates and student enrollment during her tenure.
But she stepped down from her post last September just weeks into the new school year. In a letter to the school community, she wrote, “Simply put, I am ready to take on new challenges."
Henderson appeared on FOX 5 News and revealed that one of her new challenges is a career as a fashion model.
“Because when opportunity presents itself, you got to go for it,” the 46-year-old said.
Being in front of the camera is not new to Henderson. She was also a model and actor as a child.
“It was a totally kind of serendipitous situation,” said Henerson. “Eloquii is the retailer that I modeled for and does a segment called ‘Style and Substance’ where they feature their customers who also do substantive work and they featured a good friend of mine Kenya Bradshaw last year. I saw her pictures. She was flown to New York, she was glammed up, she was in these beautiful clothes. I was like, ‘Kenya, how in the world did that happen?’ She was like, ‘I can call them and ask them if they would feature you.’ And I was like, ‘That would be great.’ So it was that easy.
“I spoke to the Eloquii folks and they were very excited about having me talk about my career and to do some modeling for them, so they flew me to New York City and they glammed me up and I got to wear these super cool clothes and it was amazing.”
It was such a positive experience that Eloquii called Henderson back.
“They said, ‘Look, we have gotten so much of a positive response, would you do some work for our February catalogue?’ she recalled. “So I flew to New York again. This February, we will have a bunch of new pictures out and [it was] lots of fun.”
As chancellor, Henderson had to oversee a school system with over 48,000 students. What does she hope the children see when they see her pictures?
“I feel like each of us is whoever we are,” said Henderson. “I may not be the ideal size that I want to be, but whatever size I am, I’m going to rock it and I want kids to know that. Even if you want to lose weight or if you are fine with who you are, whatever you do, be glamorous, be beautiful, be bright, be wonderful, just be yourself, and I think part of this is that for me.”
After she stepped down, Henderson was censured by the city’s ethics board for asking for money from contractors doing business with the school system for a gala honoring teachers.
“I resigned way before that happened and that was to be frank a very incidental thing,” she said. “I was censured, which effectively means they were disappointed. But I was actually following a precedent that had been set. I'll never apologize for raising money for our teachers.”
She added, “Anywhere else, it wouldn't be a big deal. In the charter sector, they ask their vendors to contribute to support schools all the time. In this world of hyper-ethics, I understand how it ran afoul of the ethics rules and I was clear with the ethics council that I didn't intend to do anything wrong.”
Henderson said the stress of the job was one of the factors that led her to resign.
“Nine years in leadership at D.C. Public Schools is like 27 years somewhere else,” Henderson said. “And running 250 miles an hour, day in and day out, not seeing my family as much as I wanted to. [It was a] highly stressful job and I was just tired.”
During her five years as the head of D.C. Public Schools, Henderson said she does not have any regrets at all.
“I feel really proud of the work that we have done at D.C. Public Schools,” said Henderson. “I was at the Georgetown game this evening and the Eastern Senior High School band was playing at halftime. They smashed it. One of my proudest things is that I put more money in for music, art and for bands and choirs to be back in schools.
“I look at the kids who have traveled abroad. I look at the fact that we have had five consecutive years of enrollment growth. I left D.C. Public Schools better than when I found it.”
She believes the new D.C. Public Schools chancellor will continue to make the school system excel and grow.
“I'm not the kind of leader who believes I'm the only person who can leave DCPS,” she said. “I think I took it from where it was to where it is now and I'm happy to pass the baton on to Antwan Wilson, who I think is going to run with it further than I did.”
What is next for the former chancellor?
“This has opened some new opportunity," she said. "I have been talking to some retail technology companies about the plus-size market and how they begin to penetrate that … In front of the camera and behind the camera, I'm exploring opportunities.”