Photo by Melvin Gaal ( on Flickr.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson reassured people via an op-ed that she is still pushing hard to make DC schools better. Unfortunately, her 535 words gave few details about her plans for school reform.

The chancellor said, “People must think that if we are not angering the community, clashing with unions, creating discord in our schools and making headlines, we must not be making change.” It’s true that some residents who don’t have children in the schools simply assume nothing is happening if education isn’t in the headlines.

But to myself and many parents, this isn’t the problem. The issue is that Chancellor Henderson’s plans remain too opaque. Her current strategy of holding all the cards close to her chest and expecting parents to believe she’s got a winning hand is causing unrest and distrust among the community.

Many families are still stinging from elements of Michelle Rhee’s tenure as school chancellor, and were further disenfranchised when Chancellor Henderson continued along the Rhee path of continuing to close schools. Parents are not yet ready to support the chancellor’s leadership sight unseen.

Henderson writes that “we spent tense and contentious years fixing the most immediate problems” after she joined DCPS in 2007. I’m left wondering what problems she is referring to, and what they did about it. Highlighting a success could go a long way.

She also writes that the district needs great teachers and staff, to support the teachers with “rigorous content,” and motivated students and engaged families in order to “give students and families the education they deserve.” Her three main bullet points give no real detail.

The chancellor briefly references specials (art, music, and PE), foreign language instruction, and librarians. In fact, many schools are losing funds for librarians in next year’s budget. The op-ed contains no details on what, specifically, is changing about these programs.

This issue goes beyond this one op-ed. Maybe the Washington Post imposed a length limit. But families have not heard the answers they need in other forums either. Nor have city leaders. In his opening statement at a DC Council hearing on the recent cheating scandals, Councilmember David Grosso said,

It has been six years since the implementation of mayoral control over our schools and there is still not a citywide plan for education.

Six years into this reform process and we still have embarrassingly low proficiency numbers in reading and math.

Six years into this reform process, and what amazes me is that we still don’t have a simple, unified public measure for parents to understand how an individual school is performing.

Six years into this reform process and it’s hard for parents to plan for their child’s education because our policies and the landscape of offerings change every year. ...

This may appear to be a harsh assessment, but I have to ask: Who is guiding our education reform? Why does it seem that there are no guiding principles — NO PLAN?

A lot will be changing in DCPS in the near future. There will be fewer schools next year. Boundaries will likely soon change. Budget and facilities will shift. Enrollment is rising in many parts of the city. If Chancellor Henderson wants engaged families, she will need to give us more than a wink and a nod.

Families want to understand where the district is going so they can make decisions about whether they will keep their children in DCPS. They also need to feel heard and valued. That is where Chancellor Henderson can really make change happen for DCPS students. We’re listening.

Jessica Christy has two children learning Chinese at Washington Yu Ying, where she is also the president of the Parent Association. For work, she does industrial hygiene consulting and stays at home with her two-year-old. In her free time (ha!), Jessica enjoys needlepoint and DIY home improvement. All opinions stated here are her own.