D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson hired a professor of urban education to fill a new senior-level position that could help improve the outcomes of African-American students in the District.
Robert Simmons, who is taking an indefinite sabbatical from his position as the director of the Center for Innovation in Urban Education at Loyola University Maryland, will step in as the school system’s chief of innovation and research – one of 10 chief-level positions that report directly to Henderson.
He will specifically be focusing on African-American males in the District as their graduation rate lags far behind the city average.
He will also be responsible for conducting research that could lead to more effective programs and initiatives to help the students achieve academic success in an urban school system.
“I believe in the vision the chancellor has laid out,” Simmons said. “I just saw great alignment with my own passion for urban education.”
Simmons said it was far too early in the process to discuss specific programs and the kinds of ideas he will be researching, but he knows he will have to build bridges to connect the students and allow them to communicate with faculty and staff.
He added that he will also be a “facilitator of conversations and program development.”
Henderson believes that Simmons is the perfect candidate for the position, considering his background is very similar to those of the students he will be reaching out to.
“He overcame the odds in Detroit and throughout his career, his accomplishments and bodies of work, both academic and practical, focus on ensuring success for poor and minority students,” Henderson said. “He brings great insight and experience to your DCPS family.”
The tough environment that Simmons overcame included growing up with a father who was in and out of prison.
Despite these circumstances, Simmons went on to become a middle school science teacher and in 2007, he earned his doctorate degree in education from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. During that time he was also an assistant professor at Eastern Michigan University.
In 2009, he transferred to his current job at Loyola University.
In addition to speaking to schools all across the nation about the issues of poverty and race in the educational system, Simmons also serves on the board of the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School.