The head of D.C. Public Schools speaks with ABC7 News as she prepares to go face-to-face with City Council to address a string of stinging news headlines, including allegations of students cheating on tests and a tightened budget among falling enrollment.
Declining student enrollment, closing schools and tackling a cheating scandal means Chancellor Kaya Henderson heads back to the hot seat at City Council. She said she has to make unpopular decisions that were tough, but necessary.
“I am frustrated because people are saying I haven’t done enough,” she says. “I have used every tool in my tool kit to get to the bottom of cheating.”
The cheating scandals rocked her school system. The latest – the State Department of Education found individual instances of cheating on standardized testing in 10 classrooms in seven public schools in 2012.
“We are removing those teachers from the testing environments if the evidence stands that they did cheat. If the evidence stands that they did cheat we will most swiftly terminate them,” she says.
Recent reports also allege that widespread cheating in D.C. schools went well beyond last year before Chancellor Henderson was in charge.
“We have had six investigations that have cleared DCPS of widespread cheating so we have actually exhausted our ability to go backwards,” she says.
Going forward, public school students have another round of standardized testing in a few weeks. Henderson says there will be new levels of security.
Tests and answer booklets used to remain with teachers for the full two weeks, but not anymore. That material will be collected and redistributed during testing, shortening that window of time.
“My hope is at some point we will be able to honor the work being done in our classrooms every day by not assuming our employees are cheats.”
Henderson says she is tackling declining enrollment, a tighter budget, and an expected population boom.
She is also closing 15 schools, but setting up short term leases so she can reopen shuttered schools when needed, redistributing staff, training her teachers, doubling the gifted and talented program, and planning to invest $12 million into literacy programs.
“This is the hard work and it is not sexy talking about teaching kids to read every day, but this is the work we have to do,” she says.