D.C. starts new school year with lots of changes

WASHINGTON — More students, more teachers, more courses, more choice.

D.C.’s public schools are set to open with increased enrollment. D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson says she expects enrollment to grow to 50,000 this year. Plenty more teachers will be in D.C. classrooms: 750 new teachers have been hired, 250 more than last year.

And schools will offer more courses, including new AP selections and new electives. Henderson says the choices are designed to keep kids engaged while pushing rigor throughout the curriculum.

“Kids will be able to take things like African-American literature or journalism.”

Henderson says recruiting new teachers to teach those added courses was not the challenge it used to be.

“We’ve gone from being the lowest-paying school district in the region to being not only the highest-paying school district in the region for teacher salaries, but we’re also the highest-paying first-year teacher salary in the country.”

An indication of the change: a fourth-year teacher’s earnings — including salary and bonuses — could top $100,000.

The days leading up to the first day of school are like the days leading up to a big holiday, Henderson says.

“People are cooking and people are cleaning and people are fixing and all of that stuff: it feels like the night before Thanksgiving.”

Four more schools are coming on line this year: Brookland Middle School; River Terrace; Van Ness Elementary; and Dorothy Height Elementary School.

DCPS is introducing Cornerstones into this year’s curriculum: Henderson says it’s a way of deepening the curriculum that aligns with Common Core and the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test. She says teachers like it. One actually ran up to her in a hallway and hugged her, saying that Cornerstones was the best thing that ever happened to her.

“We took the approach that we’ll provide guidance — and guidelines — but teachers still have room to get their creative instruction on,” Henderson says.

There are still many challenges: D.C.’s graduation rate hovers at about 58 percent, compared with Montgomery County’s 89 percent. Henderson is used to the comparisons, but doesn’t dwell on them.

“Our kids are as smart as, and as talented as, kids in Fairfax and kids in Montgomery. Our kids, I would say, come with some additional talents and resources, like perseverance and grit and determination. We’re proud of that and we want to capitalize on that.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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