April 12, 2012 – D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS’92, G’07), who was once convinced she had no interest in the field of education, will receive an honorary degree at Georgetown April 21 for her contributions to education reform.
“I watched my mother work long hours,” Henderson recalls. “During much of her evenings and free time, she was on the telephone with students and parents, tutoring and providing extra help or taking young people to plays, concerts, etc. It seemed like the job never ended, so I was pretty clear that the field of education wasn’t interesting to me.”
Teaching for America
Before graduating from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, Henderson thought she would join the CIA, the Foreign Service or go into international law.
But by senior year, a relatively new organization called Teach For America (TFA) had caught her attention.
“The president of Georgetown’s Black Student Alliance, who was someone who I respected, graduated a year or two before me and decided to do Teach For America,” Henderson recalls. “I was perplexed by the decision, as he seemed to have many more lucrative and prestigious career options available to him.”
She quickly recognized that TFA’s mission – to help kids growing up in poverty get a good education – resonated with her.
Part of a Movement
“Both in high school and at Georgetown, I participated in a lot of community service activities, most of them working with young people – from tutoring and mentoring, to working at summer camps, to volunteering in the [Georgetown’s] ASK program,” she explains.
After graduation, Henderson worked as a middle school Spanish teacher for TFA in the Bronx and then national director of admissions and finally executive director of TFA’s D.C. branch.
“I loved the idea of being part of a movement,” she adds. “Little did I know how that decision would literally change the trajectory of my life.”
After TFA, she served for several years as vice president for strategic partnerships with The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit committed to ending educational inequality.
Integrity and Passion
During this time she went back to Georgetown to get her executive master’s in leadership.
Henderson began serving as interim chancellor of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) in November 2010 before officially taking the position last June.
Georgetown President John J. DeGioia will confer a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa on the Georgetown alumna during a Saturday ceremony in Gaston Hall.
“Kaya Henderson exemplifies what it means to pursue a life in service to others,” the citation will read. “Her integrity, passion for justice and ability to bring together communities has enabled her to impact the lives of thousands of students and strengthen the foundation for education in cities across the nation.”
As chancellor of DCPS, Henderson says she’s most proud of the revolution she says her administration has started in the classroom.
“This school year, we implemented a more rigorous academic curriculum aligned to the national common core standards to ensure that our students leave high school prepared for college- and career-level work,” says Henderson, who in 2011 was named one of the “World’s 7 Most Powerful Educators” by Forbes magazine.
“More importantly,” she says, “many DCPS teachers and principals have said they finally have the tools and resources they need to maximize student achievement.”
She says she’s grateful for the education she received at Georgetown.
“I got a great education and a diverse set of experiences that prepared me to operate in any arena,” she says. “While service and responsibility are values ingrained in me by my family, Georgetown’s commitment to creating men and women for others spoke to my passions and helped to deepen my commitment to making a difference.”