Education Headlines
MV School District: Fires….Re-Hires…Then Fires Four Employees

MV School District: Fires….Re-Hires…Then Breaking News - Reported Here

American Legacy Magazine’s “Know Your History” Mobile Exhibit to Visit Grace CDF “Freedom School”

American Legacy Magazine’s “Know Your His   American Legacy, the magaz

A.B. Davis High School Class of 1961 Reunion

A.B. Davis High School Class of 1961 Reunion In June 1961, 550 ‘Hilltop

MV Peace Keepers Present to Parents of Grace CDF Freedom School

MV Peace Keepers Present to Parents of Grace On Tuesday, August 2, Richard

When the Going Gets Tough for Kids in Mount Vernon,  Scarsdale Residents Respond

When the Going Gets Tough for Kids in Mount V More than 100 attended the rec

Mount Vernon Alum Sponsors Prom Dress Giveaway

Mount Vernon Alum Sponsors Prom Dress Giveawa For many teens around the coun

Youth Bureau Director Receives  Emerging Young Leader’s Award

Youth Bureau Director Receives Emerging Youn On April 7, more than 3,000 st

Students at Mt. Vernon’s Longfellow School Picture Their World

Students at Mt. Vernon’s Longfellow School   The Greater Hudson Valley

Ingerman Smith Appointed Legal Counsel to the Mount Vernon City School District

Ingerman Smith Appointed Legal Counsel to the Hauppauge, NY, July 27, 2011

Boys II Men Mentoring Program Visits China

Boys II Men Mentoring Program Visits China From April 16-23, Longfellow

New DC School Chief Inspired By Mount Vernon Education

Monday, 13 December 2010 15:20 Elaine Flores
Print PDF

Mount Vernon Today Exclusive

Before making national headlines on the topic of school reform, the new Acting Chancellor of DC Public Schools, Kaya Henderson, was a Mount Vernon girl. Shortly after her November 1 appointment to the position, Henderson gave an exclusive interview to Mount Vernon Today and reflected on her passion for education and what her hometown and the nation must do to be competitive.

Henderson’s personal story makes it clear why she picked a career in education. “Over the course of my growing up, I had a great education in Mount Vernon public school,” she begins. “My parents were able to -- my mother especially -- move out of poverty and solidly into the middle class only because we had a great public education in Mount Vernon.”


That quest to feed young minds may be in Henderson’s blood. “My mother, Kathleen Henderson, was in Yonkers public schools for about 20 years and then she was in Hempstead public schools for several years and New York City schools, but the bulk of her career was in Yonkers. She started out as gym teacher, became a guidance counselor, an assistant principal and a principal at the age of 30.... She ultimately went back to teaching because she thought the real revolution was in the classroom.”

Henderson, who champions raising the bar for American teachers, credits her own instructors with setting her on the path to success.  “I feel like I had awesome teachers,” praises Henderson. “In elementary school, my 6th-grade teacher at Pennington-Grimes, Ms. Blackman was one of the first people who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. When I think about high school, I think about Louis Cuglietto, my 9th-grade geometry teacher. Brenda Smith, who taught business and was the assistant principal, had a tremendous influence on me. I think about Carolyn Walters, who was my cheerleading coach. I had great teachers, who were all incredibly encouraging. They set very high standards for me. They believed in me, which made me believe in me.... My education at Mount Vernon High School, which at the time was a Blue Ribbon high school, catapulted me to Georgetown University and I was able to compete with kids from all kinds of high-performing school districts.”

Henderson, who began her education career as a Spanish instructor in the South Bronx, says: “When I was making my career decision, I was interested in doing policy work and the only area I felt passionate about was education because I had been a beneficiary and I’d worked in tutoring programs, day camps and sleepover camps all throughout high school and college and I loved working with children. I understood the catalytic effect that a good public education could have on poor children and especially on black and brown children and I felt like the least among us should have the same opportunities that I had.”

Addressing the current Mount Vernon public school system, Henderson says: “I  do know that Mount Vernon public schools are in a much more difficult position than when I was in school. That makes me incredibly sad. I feel like it’s a very small school district... and if the right leadership is in place and the political courage is there, you can make things happen, even in these challenging fiscal times. And by leadership I mean superintendent, school board, mayor, the whole enchilada, because I actually think those three bodies work together to ensure quality schools. My hope is that the leaders of Mount Vernon will pull together and prioritize education because that is the thing that will bring the city back. To choose Mount Vernon public schools, parents need to feel that the education they’re getting is as good as the one at private schools and all of the surrounding jurisdictions and I know that that’s not the case. It used to be that way.”

Henderson would like to see the city hold on to its best talent, like her former teacher Louis Cuglietto, with whom she recently met. “He’s the principal of a Blue Ribbon school in Port Chester. His school is nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as being an awesome school. Mr. Cuglietto was a teacher and principal in Mount Vernon public schools. Now, he’s doing his best work for Port Chester. Why is that? Why aren’t we able to attract and retain our highest performers?”

The key to student success, she says, is a “great teacher. Research shows that if a student has a highly effective teacher three years in a row, it can literally change their life chances. It also shows that the only reliable predictor of student success is the quality of the teacher. Our problem as a nation -- this is not just Mount Vernon, this is not just Washington, DC -- our problem is that we have not worked to ensure that every person teaching is the best that we possibly have. Other more competitive countries, that are outpacing us as far as education is concerned -- Finland, Singapore, South Korea -- they ensure that only their top college graduates are eligible for teaching jobs. We ensure that our most mediocre college graduates go into teaching by setting the salaries low, by creating terrible work environments and by devaluing the profession of teaching. When we ensure that only our very best can teach and we ensure that they are in every single classroom in America, that’s when are going to turn this things around.”

As for the role individual families play in ensuring their children’s success, Henderson says: “What I know for sure is whether your family is well-off or not, functional or dysfunctional -- no matter what your familial circumstances are -- a great teacher can overcome the challenges that a child is facing so that they have a good chance of a productive life. I’m not discounting the effects of poverty or kids coming to school hungry, but we can’t use that as an excuse for not reaching our kids. At the end of the day, you know and I know, great teachers who took kids from improbable circumstances and catapulted them to great lives and we have to ensure that this is the norm and not the exception.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 December 2010 16:21

Add comment

Security code