News & Politics

Kaya Henderson Says She’s Not Leaving DC for New York

Henderson confirms she spoke to New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, but decided to remain here.

Henderson. Photograph courtesy DC Public Schools.

New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will have to look somewhere else for a schools boss, with DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson releasing a letter saying that she has no plans to leave the District despite being one of de Blasio’s top candidates. 

“I love this city. I love our students. I love working with all of you, and I am not about to leave when our students have so much riding on the work we do every day,” Henderson writes to DCPS’ Central Office.

The letter, which was first reported by WAMU, confirms reports that de Blasio was openly courting Henderson to run New York City’s schools, the biggest school system in the country by far with more than 1 million students and 80,000 teaachers spread across 2,000 schools. DC has about 44,000 students.

In her letter, Henderson writes that de Blasio’s consideration of her is a credit to DC’s education system. “I was flattered by his call and I absolutely love that DCPS is being recognized as a leader in high-quality urban education,” Henderson writes. Henderson is not a stranger to New York’s schools, having started her carrer as a middle-school Spanish teacher in the South Bronx.

In her current post, though, Henderson is also a political target, especially from the Washington Teachers Union, which has fought with since she succeeded Michelle Rhee as chancellor. At a mayoral debate hosted by the union this week, mentions of Henderson’s name produced derision from an auditorium packed with teachers frustrated with performance reviews, school closures and other policies enacted by Rhee and Henderson.

Mayor Vince Gray has defended Henderson, but several of his opponents are not so keen on her. Still, even though Gray will likely be relieved to hear that he won’t have to go looking for another schools chancellor, there is a certain political satisfaction in a new big-city mayor trying to raid the cabinet.

“You definitely want other cities coming to get your public officials,” says Gray’s campaign manager Chuck Thies.

Read Henderson’s letter below:

Dear Central Office,

You have probably read in the papers by now that my name has shown up on the short list of possible new Chancellors for New York City Schools and that I have spoken with Mayor-elect DeBlasio about his education plans going forward. The New York Times, The Daily News, and EdWeek have all reported that my name has been in the mix and our local media has joined the speculation as well.

First, I want to be very clear with all of you that this is wonderful recognition for the work we have done. I have spoken with Mr. DeBlasio. I was flattered by his call and I absolutely love that DCPS is being recognized as a leader in high-quality urban education. The Chancellorship of NYC schools is, in many ways, the pinnacle of school district jobs. With over one million students, 80,000 teachers, and almost 2000 schools, NYC schools is not just the biggest district, but of a completely different scale than DCPS.

It is a tremendous testament to the work that each of you has done over the past three years that NYC wants to replicate our successes. Of course, we have great gains in student achievement that we can point to as demonstrated in the DC CAS and the NAEP. We also have more students taking and passing AP classes and higher SAT scores than at any time in the past five years. At the same time, we have increased our student enrollment, have more students who like their school than ever before, and have reduced our number of truant students. We have the best teaching workforce of any urban district. We really are a district where every measure of success is going in the right direction.

The fact that NYC is looking to us for leadership is just one more indication that we have the right approach.

The second thing that you should know about the Chancellorship of NYC is that I will not take the job. I love New York City — it is where my career in education began 20 years ago – but nothing can compare to the opportunities and responsibilities that we have here in Washington, DC. We have helped take our students so far in the past few years and I can’t possibly leave before I see how much farther they can go. Our ambitious Capital Commitment goals for 2017 are now well within reach and I am excited to continue to work with you as we achieve them. I love this city. I love our students. I love working with all of you, and I am not about to leave when our students have so much riding on the work we do every day.

So please, take a moment to see the fact that we are part of the conversation about the next NYC chancellor for what it is. It is a compliment to us for the hard work we all do. It is a testament to the fact that we have chosen the right course and we have stuck to it. It is an endorsement of our strategy.

And that is what it will remain. I love DC and I’m not about to leave. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have the best job in the world.


Chancellor Henderson

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.