MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – One of her former teachers saw a great future for Kaya Henderson when she was his student in Mount Vernon High School, and the talent he witnessed has taken her all the way to Washington, D.C., where she is chancellor of the public school system.
Louis Cuglietto, principal of John F. Kennedy Magnet School in Port Chester, said he recognized Henderson’s promise when he was her ninth-grade math teacher.
“Kaya was part of a group of insanely intelligent kids who were diverse, respectful and multi-faceted,” he said. “She stood out immediately, and I could see even then that she was going to accomplish great things.
Henderson said Cuglietto was a major help to her during her high school years. She said she tried to emulate him in her own classroom when she began her career with Teach for America, after earning a bachelor’s degree in international relations at Georgetown University.
“We worked on geometric proofs and logic and he would tell me, ‘Henderson, you can do this,’” she said. “He was a constant encourager and his belief in me gave me the confidence to succeed. If every classroom in America was filled with teachers like Lou Cuglietto, our education system would be in a very different situation.”
Henderson said her experiences in Mount Vernon’s schools have been an inspiration for what she hopes to accomplish in the D.C. schools, where she has been chancellor for three years. She reconnected with Cuglietto shortly after he read about her becoming chancellor, when he met with her in Washington when he was in the nation's capital because his school was receiving an award as a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School.
The two have maintained contact. Cuglietto attended the ceremony when Henderson was presented with an honorary doctorate from Georgetown, and Henderson honored Cuglietto when she was a presenter at the Standing Ovation for D.C. Teachers.
“It was such a thrill to be about to thank him in such a public way for everything he did for me and for so many other kids in Mount Vernon,” she said.
Cuglietto said it was a highlight for him as well, explaining, “Seeing students like Kaya succeed validates all the work we do.”
Read Henderson's full biography here.