Kaya Henderson: DC Public Schools’ Unstoppable Leader

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Sometimes it's about where you sit. At Education Pioneers' recent 10-Year Anniversary Leadership Summit and Celebration in San Francisco, I had the good luck to sit near DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson during the morning welcome.

Even more serendipitous was that Education Pioneers' Founder and CEO Scott Morgan asked all 450 attendees to take a moment, find someone near us who we didn't know yet, introduce ourselves, and explain why we were there that day.  I jumped at the chance to meet Chancellor Henderson.

One of the main reasons that the Chancellor was there that day?  Talent.

Kaya Henderson

She explained to me that one of her primary strategies for transforming results for all of DCPS' 47,000 students was to build a powerful, unstoppable leadership team of talented people.

Take Brian Pick, for example.  Serving as DCPS' Chief of Teaching and Learning, and also an EP Alumnus (DC Metro Area, 2007), Pick is responsible for supporting all DCPS teachers with the resources and professional development they need to ensure all students achieve at the highest levels. In 2012, Pick was awarded the Council of the Great City Schools/Pearson Educa­tion Curriculum Leadership Award for "exemplifying leadership, innovation, and commitment to raising the academic achievement of all students" at DCPS.  In her evening remarks, Henderson called Pick "one of the most illustrious Ed Pioneers alumni in the world."

Watch Kaya Henderson tell her leadership story during Education Pioneers' 10-year event.

Henderson told me she was happy to be an important part of Education Pioneers' 10-year anniversary event to support her friend Scott Morgan.  In building Education Pioneers, he enabled her to have access to the top people she needed on the ground in Washington, DC, who are working incredibly hard for all of the district's children.

"Every day I work with an amazing group of people to be urgent, strategic, deliberate, and make it happen for kids," Henderson said during a panel discussion on school system leadership.

Her message was clear and powerful: we need top people working hard every day to move the needle for our nation's most vulnerable kids, who most often are educated in large, urban public districts. For all of the innovation that is already happening in the sector and must be done in the future to transform teaching and learning results, we can't leave these kids behind as we lay the groundwork for a more effective education system.

"We need new people and new ideas," she said. "But we also need people to tend to the grass that is currently growing."

Ultimately, that is the significant challenge in education: we must do it all, all at once.  We must educate all students - especially our most vulnerable students - at high levels today.  Simultaneously, we must innovate and create a 21st century system of great schools for all of tomorrow's children.  We must do both now, and we must do both well.

That's why Henderson is staying exactly where she is.  And for those of us who are thinking about education or writing about education, Henderson sounds a siren call: come work for DC Public Schools.

As someone who has spent nearly 10 years working for organizations that work to bring more top people into the education sector, I echo and expand her call: Join us.  Working in education is the most important, meaningful, and exciting work in our nation. There are numerous ways to get involved, and Education Pioneers is one of them. Apply to one of our Fellowships, refer a top leader you know, partner with us, or support our work.

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