Deputy Mayor of Education sets sights on reform

Zara Hall and Elie Salem

Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed prominent education consultant and administrator Paul Kihn to the position of Deputy Mayor of Education in October. Bowser has asked Kihn to focus on two specific goals: narrowing the achievement gap across all DCPS schools and building public confidence in the system.

“An important goal for me is to work with school communities and with families to rebuild public confidence primarily by being really transparent about our decision-making, engaging families and community members in real meaningful conversations,” Kihn said.

The appointment comes after the former Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles resigned in February following revelations that she helped former Chancellor Antwan Wilson bypass the out-of-bounds school lottery system to get his daughter into Wilson High School. Chancellor Wilson also resigned in the wake of this scandal.

Kihn has extensive experience in improving public school systems with a weak academic track record. In Philadelphia, Kihn was a leading education official when the school system balanced the budget by closing 10 percent of public schools and firing thousands of employees.

“Paul brings a wide range of experiences to this position, from working in the classroom as a teacher to studying and implementing best practices as a consultant, to helping to lead a large urban school district,” said Bowser in a public statement. “Paul understands what it takes to build strong schools, he’s committed to equity and transparency, and we are excited to have him on our team.”

Though his actions in Philadelphia proved successful, Kihn doesn’t necessarily think they should be applied to DCPS. “Philadelphia was a city in a very specific set of circumstances when I arrived there in 2012. It had a budget deficit of over 500 million for a lot of things that we had to do to stabilize the district,” Kihn said. “This is a different city with different circumstances. So I don’t think that I would look at some actions that were taken in Philadelphia five years ago being any kind of indicator of what we need to do here.”

Kihn strongly supports the idea of a separate education research agency, however, he believes the agency should remain outside of the government..

“I personally set [a research agency] up in Philadelphia and I think the idea that we find researchers to help us do really interesting and innovative projects that tell us whether the work that we’re doing in the system is actually working or how we might need to adjust it is a really important idea,” Kihn said. “I do not think that it belongs in any part of the government which is one of the provisions in the recent reform bill that appeared one that was presented to council last week.”

The main challenge for Kihn will be restoring faith in the data of the public school system following discoveries last year that one third of the DCPS graduated class should not have graduated due to excessive absences, undercutting DCPS’ boast that graduation rates were improving.

“Our families say to me that they want to be involved in meaningful decision-making. You can imagine families and schools want specific kinds of programming in those schools and they want to talk about feeder patterns,” Kihn said.