Kaya Henderson Faces Parents

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/7/2011, 12:39 p.m.

"... What happened over time is I don't think that promise of the centers has been realized ... (the question was) with the fiscal crisis, are we getting the bang for the buck."

On closer inspection, Henderson said, four reasons emerged that led to the decision to close the centers: the expense, the small number of parents served, the results of a survey and research that suggested 1,200 parents opted for tools other than PRCs.

"We've invested a lot of money into the centers. I'm not interested in throwing this away. We have a dedicated staff. These people could be super-spectacular but we were not able to reach parents the way we needed to. Part of the challenge is that we're not good at building parent capacity. Our core competency is educating children, not food service, people or the physical plant. We are sharpening our focus."

"There are a lot of people who are good at building parent capacity."

Henderson, 40, said the situation should never have come to this.

"We completely jacked-up communication of this issue. I offer my apology," she said. "The way we finalized this, explained it, transitioned people out ... we would have done it differently. It will not happen again. We sat down with you to open these (PRCs). We should have sat down with you to decide what to do."

District of Columbia Public Schools provided handouts that indicate from 2006-2011, the total cost to operate the centers was $4,421,973.60 for personnel costs, supplies, building out space, furniture and other expenses. The 2008-2009 year marked the high point of expenses at $1,991,912.83. But these and other numbers, the results of the survey and the motivation of school officials were disputed by parent leaders like Jordan, 70.

"Some of the financial and budgetary information we have not gotten from Kelly Young. Why?" he asked. "Who commissioned the survey? Who paid for it? It's skewed because it does not represent the sample universe. You had a body count but didn't measure effectiveness ... It's easy to pick and choose results that rationalize your arguments."

The big elephant in the room as has been the case in all of these interactions is race. A number of parents castigated Henderson and the school system for putting the needs and desires of white parents ahead of those of black parents.

"We know what this is all about: race. I don't know why we put shutters on and refuse to see what's going on. We have so many bright kids in Ward 8," Lockridge said.

"For example, my grandson went to Yale University when he was 16 because of the Humanities and Math/Science program at Ballou High School. Then they abruptly took it away. They gave that program to two charter schools. Why not use resources we already have here. Why pay consultants exorbitant fees. They should bring old principals back to train these new principals. Youngsters they are bringing in don't know the background of the community."

As Henderson and parents sparred about monetary issues, Crystal Powell and Eboni-Rose Thompson reminded listeners of the human toll.