Before joining ASDS, she worked for seven years with the Comprehensive School Assistance Program in low-performing schools and districts to develop rigorous curriculum and assessment systems ensuring all students have the opportunity to learn state standards. She has helped schools and districts in California, Arizona, Tennessee, and Mississippi meet district improvement targets by implementing core curriculum expectations.
Prior to joining WestEd, McKenna served as Superintendent of New Haven (California) Unified School District, where she led the district to adopt graduation requirements that guaranteed the eligibility of every student to the California State University and University of California systems. Specifically, McKenna helped the district implement the California Content Standards, establish multiple measures for student performance evaluation, open preschool programs at every district elementary school, and establish school-level accountability for students at risk of failure. As Associate Superintendent, McKenna helped move New Haven to the forefront in technology integration in the classroom and the workplace.
Under McKenna's leadership, the district's students surged well above the state average in the following areas:
- Participation in high school courses required to be admitted to the University of California: 11 percent higher than the state average;
- Percentage of eighth graders proficient or advanced in Algebra: 14 percent higher than the state average;
- Participation rate in biology and chemistry courses: 17 percent higher than the state average; and
- Narrowed the gap between lowest-and highest-performing schools on the state's Academic Performance Index (API) between 2000-2003, a 46-point reduction. In addition, the lowest scoring school on API in 2000 demonstrated a 100-point gain by comparison in 2003.
During 1995-1998, McKenna served as Chief Deputy Superintendent for the California Department of Education, where she helped implement strategies for education reform. McKenna assembled representatives from school districts statewide to draft the first set of academic standards for the state.