Educators: Kaya Henderson Quick Hits

Kaya Henderson/DCPS
Kaya Henderson/DCPS


On the heels of Teacher Appreciation Week, here is another educator making a profound impact.  Kaya Henderson is Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. She is one of TIME's "12 Education Activists to Watch in 2012" as well as one of Forbes’ seven most-powerful educators in the world.

Sam's Dream Blog: What's your dream for D.C. schools? How do you practically pursue it?

Kaya Henderson: From the first day I began working at District of Columbia Public Schools, I have had one dream for our schools: Turning DCPS into a world-class school system that prepares students well for success in college, career and life.

I want every student in this city to have the opportunity to learn from an outstanding teacher in a classroom that provides the tools and technology to help them reach their potential and pursue their own dreams for the future. And I want every student in this city to have access to fun and engaging programs that get students excited about learning and going to school.

But more than a dream, creating a world-class school system is a moral imperative. The future success of our city and our nation depends on a well-educated workforce, and I want our students to be able to compete with their peers in the D.C. area, the United States and around the world.

Over the past five years, we have been working diligently at our schools and in the central office to recruit and retain the most talented teachers and school leaders; build and rebuild high-quality modern schools that are wired for 21st century technology and feature some of the best amenities we can offer; and, through our community partnerships, we are creating exciting programs that engage students’ interests in academics, the arts, athletics and technology.

This year, in particular, we’ve made significant strides in pursuing our goals by launching a rigorous, new academic plan that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and designed to improve student performance. And, in our new five-year strategic plan, titled 'A Capital Commitment," we’ve made specific bold spending and programmatic decisions to reach our goals.

Over the next five years, DCPS has committed to the following five goals:

Increase district-wide proficiency to 70 percent while doubling the number of advanced students;

Improve the proficiency rates for our 40 lowest-performing schools by 40 percentage points

Increase our high school graduation rate from 52 percent to 75 percent

Ensure that 90 percent of DCPS students like the school they attend; and

Increase our enrollment.

These commitments support our goals for the next five years and the promises we have made to the District of Columbia and all our stakeholders to provide the students of this city with a world-class education.

Behind each of these goals are real, specific financial commitments that will help us build on the momentum we have seen over the past five years and move forward aggressively toward dramatic improvements.

SDB: Does your dream ever seem daunting?

Kaya Henderson:

Dreams always seem daunting at first. It’s not until you set goals and develop specific plans to reach those goals that you see the very real possibility of turning a dream into reality.

In DCPS, we take a strategic, systematic approach in setting goals for improvement - whether that’s academics, programming, operations or facilities. We set ambitious goals for our students, teachers, school leaders and central office support staff, and hold regular school stats throughout the organization to monitor progress and troubleshoot potential problems.

When you set ambitious goals in an effort to reach your dreams, it is critical to have the support of all your stakeholders - from city hall to communities and partners. We have been fortunate to have the unwavering support of Mayor Vincent C. Gray and look forward to engaging our communities and partners and garnering their support as we move forward with our five-year strategic plan in pursuit of our goals.

Did you think about some meaningful educators in your life last week? If not, here is another reminder

Teacher Appreciation Week with Leslie Jacobs

Teacher Appreciation Week:

Leslie Jacobs/Tulane
Leslie Jacobs/Tulane

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. Who better to feature on Sam’s Dream Blog this week than Leslie Jacobs? Jacobs has helped to re-shape the New Orleans school system to the point that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called New Orleans the most improved school district in the country in 2011. Late last year, Forbes included Jacobs among the world’s seven most-powerful educators.

Sam’s Dream Blog: You’re a New Orleans native.  When did education of New Orleans youth become important to you?

Leslie Jacobs: I am a New Orleans native.  When I returned to New Orleans after college and the birth of my first child, I was looking to engage in something meaningful.  I became a business partner with an elementary school next to a housing development, which was one of the lowest performing schools in the city.

SDB: More than 60 percent of schools were failing before Hurricane Katrina. What was the effect of Katrina on student and teacher morale, and what got them hoping and believing again?

Leslie Jacobs: Public schools in New Orleans are much better than they were before the levees broke in 2005.  We are the most improved school district in the state.  Our dropout rate has plummeted.  More students are passing the state tests. Fewer schools are failing.  Why the change?  Many reasons:  The freedom and autonomy of public charter schools (close to 80 percent of students attend charter schools), the return of veteran teachers and principals along with many new ones, an embracing of a "no excuses" culture - the adults in the building need to find a way to overcome the challenges students bring with them to school. These are some of the key changes.

SDB: What’s your dream for New Orleans schools?

Leslie Jacobs: My dream and expectation is that New Orleans becomes a national "proof point"' that demonstrates to the country that we can successfully educate large numbers of poor and minority youth.

Who is a teacher in your life who you can say thank you to this Teacher Appreciation Week?

Natalie MacNeil, EMMY Award Winner Quick Hits

Natalie MacNeil is an EMMY Award-winning media entrepreneur. MacNeil founded the women’s entrepreneurship blog "She Takes On The World." "She Takes On The World" earned a spot on Forbes’ list, "Top 10 Entrepreneurial Sites for Women" and on the ForbesWoman list, "Top 100 Websites for Women."

Dreaming Made Simple: I read that you were recognized as Canada’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year.  As a twenties-something, how does someone get his or her ideas to be taken seriously by much older decision makers?

Natalie MacNeil: Being taken seriously as a young go-getter requires unwavering confidence. There are people who judge me based on age -usually before they see my resume -but I don't let that bother me anymore. You have to look inwards and know that age does not limit what you can achieve. I truly believe that the only limits you will face are the limits you put on yourself.

Dreaming Made Simple: The name "She Takes On The World" sounds pretty ambitious.  How does someone decide whether his or her dream is too big, and how do you go after the really big one?

Natalie MacNeil: There is no such thing as dreaming "too big." You just have to remember that anything big you're going to accomplish will take time. When I set out to achieve a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), I start with 5 milestones or strategic actions that will be necessary to reach the goal. Then I work backwards to determine how to schedule those milestones into my calendar so that I have a timeline laid out for achieving my BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). My last piece of advice for reaching those big dreams would be to surround yourself with a strong support system. The people you surround yourself with can make all the difference!

Keep your eyes on Natalie MacNeil's blog to learn more about women changing the world