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Why DC Schools And Others Need a Chancellor From Their Own Community

By Victor Trammell

The Washington Post published an interesting article this past Sunday, which was written by a columnist named Jay Mathews.

The Post columnist’s article was basically an open letter to Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington D.C. The open letter pleaded with the D.C. mayor and asked her to consider replacing the current chancellor of the D.C. public school district with a person from the community.

Kaya Henderson (pictured) is the outgoing chancellor of the D.C. public school district. Henderson announced earlier this month that she would step down this fall. When heads of public school districts leave or get fired from their positions, a nationwide search typically ensues to find a replacement.

Mathews believes that this is not the right thing to do. His open letter to Mayor Bowser stressed that replacing a school district’s top decision-maker should involve screening candidates who are in touch with the academic community they are expected to lead. Mathews wrote:

“For many decades, big U.S. school districts have bought into the myth that somewhere out there is a genius who can solve their problems. They do nationwide searches for the same reason many rich people buy far more living space than they need: They would be thought peculiar if they did not.” (The Washington Post)

This open letter in The Washington Post speaks volumes about the cookie cutter process cities across America undertake when they are trying to hire a new head of the public school system. The position of school district chancellor (or superintendent) is usually a revolving door job with a high turnover rate.

School districts have not been able to statistically prove that finding an out-of-town replacement to lead them is actually better than hiring someone who is from the community where students attend school. Henderson, the outgoing D.C. school district chancellor held her position for just five years.

She was originally raised in Mt. Vernon, New York.

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