Henderson says Tata's exit 'unexpected'
When Michelle A. Rhee announced her resignation last Oct. 13, she promised D.C. parents and students "an absolutely seamless transition" because her senior staff -- headed by Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson -- was committed to remaining in place until at least the end of the school year.
Those assurances apparently lasted until Dec. 23, when DCPS Chief Operating Officer Anthony J. Tata was named superintendent of the Wake County, N.C., school system. Tata, 51, a retired Army brigadier general, has drawn generally good reviews for upgrading the DCPS' historically poor logistics, improving textbook delivery, purchasing practices and food service. But he's been on the job for only 18 months.
Rhee's spokesperson did not return an e-mail query Monday. Tata said that when Rhee approached him about staying, he was already in discussions with Wake County. He said he told Rhee that if he did not receive the offer, he would stay until June "if not longer."
"It is my understanding that Chancellor Rhee made Chairman Gray aware of this possibility," Tata said in an e-mail. "Likewise I kept interim Chancellor Henderson aware of ongoing interviews and discussions with the Wake County search team as they occurred."
Henderson said in an e-mail that Tata's departure is not a retreat from promises made in October. "The senior leadership team is staying together," she said. "Tony just happened to get an unexpected opportunity to advance his career to a superintendency. What a great testament to the talent we've amassed!"
Tata was kind of a wild card within a Rhee team of Teach for America alums and career educators. A former deputy commander of the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, he left the military after 28 years to reinvent himself as a school leader. He signed on with the Broad Superintendents Academy, founded by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, to recruit executive talent for urban school districts and was later hired by Rhee. He writes Tom Clancy-style thrillers on the side.
But it was his other off-duty pursuit, as a conservative blogger and guest on Fox News programs, that raised some questions in heavily Democratic D.C. In a review of Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" book on Andrew Breitbart's "Big Hollywood" blog, Tata said the former Alaska governor "is far more qualified to be president of the United States than the current occupant of the White House" and that the former Alaska governor is "precisely the kind of leader America needs." On Fox News last summer, he defended Gen. Stanley McChrystal, ousted from his Afghanistan command by President Obama after critical comments to Rolling Stone. He called the author of the piece, Michael Hastings, "a weasel" for using material that was allegedly off the record.
Rhee, no stranger to the cable shout show circuit, said she had no problem with Tata's moonlighting as long as it didn't interfere with his work for DCPS. Tata's new employer, the Wake County school board, which voted 4 to 2 along partisan lines -- four Republicans to two Democrats -- to offer him the post, also said he can continue his punditry as long as he doesn't represent himself as Wake County's schools chief.
Tata, who was selected from more than 120 applicants, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, will be parachuting into a hot spot in the Wake County school system, with its 143,000 students. Layoffs and program cuts are expected, and some critics say his 18 months as Rhee's COO is scant experience for his new post. The school system also faces a federal civil rights investigation for its efforts to roll back busing, which has been used to maintain classroom diversity.
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