School & District Management

Floretta D. McKenzie, Former District of Columbia Schools Superintendent, Dies

By Denisa R. Superville — March 24, 2015 2 min read
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Floretta D. McKenzie, a longtime educator who served as the District of Columbia’s public schools superintendent in the 1980s, has died.

She was 79, and the cause of death was complications from Parkinson’s disease, The Washington Post reported.

Ms. McKenzie served as superintendent from 1981 to 1988, during a period of relative stability for the district’s schools. Her tenure as superintendent was one of the longest in the district.

She largely avoided confrontations with the school board, and deftly worked to gain support from the city’s business and political leaders. She created partnerships with local organizations and businesses to help fund school programs, according to the Post.

Ms. McKenzie emphasized a “competency-based” curriculum, which required students to master basic skills before moving on to another class, according to The Post, which said that Ms. McKenzie helped to boost elementary school achievement during her time at the helm. She started summer school programs to confront the problem of social promotion.

She stepped down from her superintendent’s post in 1988 to start an education consulting company.

Before taking the top schools job in the District of Columbia, Ms. McKenzie served as a deputy superintendent in Maryland’s Montgomery County school district and was a deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, according to The Washington Post. Early in her career, she worked as a teacher in Baltimore and in the district.

Originally from Lakeland, Fla., Ms. McKenzie’s family moved to Washington when she was a child, and she graduated from Dunbar High School.

She attended D.C. Teachers College, and obtained a master’s degree in education from Howard University and an Ed.D from George Washington University, according to the paper.

After resigning from the public schools, she started the McKenzie Group, a consulting firm focused on urban education that was later acquired by the American Institutes for Research, according to the Post.

Ms. McKenzie also served on Howard University’s Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2014.

UPDATE: In a statement, Washington, D.C.'s Chancellor Kaya Henderson said: “Dr. Flo was a mentor, a friend and a legend.”

“She took me, and so many others, under her wing and into her heart,” Henderson continued. " Over our many meals and conversations, we shared stories, and she shared lessons I hold dearly and turn to often. Today, I remember the greatest of those lessons from Dr. Flo—that we should never forget to reach back and bring others along. I am very proud to count myself as one she brought along. My thoughts and prayers are with her family in their time of grief and mourning. Rest in peace, my friend, and know your legacy lives on in all of us.”

Caption: Floretta D. McKenzie, former superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C., visits a classroom in 1986. Education Week-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.