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Posted at 5:36 PM ET, 12/27/2010

Henderson says Tata's exit 'unexpected'

By Bill Turque

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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By Bill Turque  | December 27, 2010; 5:36 PM ET
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Anyone who believes Sarah Palin is more qualified than Barack Obama--or qualified, period--to be POTUS obviously has some screws loose and needs to leave our school system, post haste! Lata, Tata!

I'd also like to know how 18 months of ordering supplies and textbooks qualifies someone to run an entire school system. Oh, that's right, he participated in the Broad superintendent program, which believes in microwaved leadership for urban schools. (No experience in education required. Just 10 weekends of indoctrination and an unwavering adherence to the Academy's philosophy that today's urban, public school systems can--and should--be run by big business CEO-types. Pedagogy be damned!)

My condolences to the Wake County school system.

Posted by: BitterJill | December 27, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I don't know who Kaya Henderson thinks she's fooling. They are dropping like flies down at the central office. By June, no one will be left. I don't expect her to stay either. I expect in June she will announce she is leaving. At least I hope she does and I hope she takes Jason Kamras with her.

If you think DCPS was a mess before Rhee came, wait until August. Not only will there be no one in the central office to run things but there will not be nearly enough teachers to staff the schools. Most who are eligible to retire are going to retire because they've had enough. In addition, many other teachers are leaving either for other districts because they're fed up or they are TFA's and DCTF's and are leaving for grad. school. It will be a mess in August.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | December 27, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Ever since the Wake County schools embarked on a revolutionary effort to integrate its classrooms on the basis of economic station as well as race, the system has been marked for destruction by reactionary political forces.

The selection of the Palinite Gen. Tata by the newly elected Republicans on the school board is the natural conclusion of this effort. Tata will bury the Wake County Public Schools.

Posted by: natturner | December 27, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

If Tata isn't the first to go, then he's the first to make any news about it.

Bill -- is there any way to confirm what Urbandweller says? Shouldn't there be a list of new openings or a public record of people dropping off the payroll?

Posted by: efavorite | December 27, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

efavorite, are you suggesting you've spoken to a DCPS principal who supports Vincent Gray? I have not. Our PTA is bracing for the worst because indeed, the worst was elected. The teachers I've spoken with claim he hasn't kept a single one of the backroom deals he had with the union to take all that union money that won him the election.

We had 6 houses go up for sale on our block so far since the election. Only lost one kid to Maryland in my son's class though.

Posted by: bbcrock1 | December 27, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't quite know what to think of Mr. Tata. He seems to be a very qualified and skilled manager. But, he says Sarah Palin is qualified to be President of the United States. I guess this is my catch-22.

Posted by: GBED989 | December 27, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

efav: A confirmation from Bill would help but I can tell you my "sources" are several friends I have who work in the central office. The tell me that almost daily someone has left. Most of the very young, inexperienced "interns" Rhee hired have already gone along with other top officials like Tata. Henderson is no more transparent than Rhee so don't expect any information from her. The fact she thinks Tata's departure was "unexpected" shows she's clueless.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | December 28, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Any clown who believes that Sarah Palin is PTOS material has a few spare parts missing. It is better that he takes his road show elsewhere. On second thought, we are saturated with stupidity, it may do us some good to have Sarah as the POTUS for four years, or until she is booed out by the people after her national and international train wrecks. We need a shock treatment to get us back to realities from tea bagging.

Posted by: samchannar | December 28, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

UD - In the print article, Bill acknowledges a few more recent departures, all at high levels.

These younger types who are leaving - where are they going (generally speaking)? are they quitting, being let go?

Regarding the "unexpected" reference - it's a bit unclear - the quote from Henderson suggests the opportunity for Tata to leave was unexpected, but the actual departure was not.

It sure makes a catchy title, though.

Posted by: efavorite | December 28, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Many of you should remember when General Becton was superintendent of DCPS; not a stellar time of leadership. I guess Wake County is getting what they want (possibly, deserve).

Posted by: M_Muething | December 28, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Tony Tata's last words?


Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | December 28, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Bill, if you want to spend the rest of your career looking in the past, then so be it. But clearly this man was making headway, but he was not Jesus. The books were not delivered to my school on time, the supplies never come on time, maybe he was only fixing things in Ward Three schools, so parents there would claim the school system has changed. The school system has not changed, Rhee was good at making noise.

Posted by: topryder1 | December 28, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

efav: don't know where the interns are going. as far as I'm told they are quitting, not necessarily being let go. My hunch is that after Gray takes office, we'll see some major cuts in DCPS--at least we should. The city has got to cut all the way around and there's a lot of "fat" to be cut in DCPS, e.g., master educators (they do the same thing principals to which is evaluate teachers so why pay 2 different positions to do the same thing?) and the instructional superintendents Rhee hired over the summer who make 130k+ and I still can't figure out what they do but walk around schools in expensive suits. A lot of people who walk through schools making lots of $ but with no direct contact with students. Big waste of money.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | December 28, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

@efavorite, are you suggesting you've spoken to a DCPS principal who supports Vincent Gray? I have not.

* Really, you must get around along. Kinda discredits your position on this blog(ue)s that you are just a parent, not a DCPS employee. Are you suggesting not one principal supports Gray?

@Our PTA is bracing for the worst because indeed, the worst was elected.

* Awwwwwww.

@The teachers I've spoken with claim he hasn't kept a single one of the backroom deals he had with the union to take all that union money that won him the election.

*Right now he is not in a position to keep deals. He hasn't been sworn-in yet.

@We had 6 houses go up for sale on our block so far since the election.

* So? Oh, I get it. Fenty lost and these sellers are afraid of some nameless horde coming to take their chateau.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | December 29, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Great post phillipmarlowe.

But I have missed bbcrock's insane comments. I guess he has been in mourning over the Fenty/Rhee lost.

Posted by: guylady201001 | December 29, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

efavorite's question, and a challenge to Turque -- unless his editors see that DCPS without Rhee is as interesting as the Delaware Senatorial race with O'Donnell-- is what has been going on in DCPS all year. School construction projects are wildly different than previously planned and scheduled, but except for a recent firings, and the mismanagement of a single middle-school -- nothing has been reported.

Posted by: incredulous | December 30, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Axiomatically, school chiefs such as Anthony Tata, Cathie Black, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee are the new, fashionable trademark of America's urban school reform movement. Apparently, you no longer need teaching experience, an education background and/or a Master's degree in education to land a job as a big city superintendent. Moving up the ranks from the classroom, to the principalship, to the assistant or instructional superintendent post are gone. Nowadays, just be a crony of a sorry, billionaire mayor, and you've got a job. You don't need to know anything about running a big city school system, and of course, all of parents, teachers, principals and community stakeholders are going to embrace you! And we wonder why America's urban school systems are so far beyond the rest of the civilized global economy? How can we compete when we constantly set ourselves up for failure with bad decisions? Look at the snow Bloomberg left on New York's streets this week? That would never happen in Chicago! I tell ya: these people are incompetent and the people need to do something about it.

Tata didn't stay around long enough to make an impact for the children of DCPS. What he did was use DCPS as a revolving door, a paycheck and a resume builder while he searched for other high end jobs. Broad superintendency resident...What a joke! Those poor kids!

Posted by: rasheeedj | January 1, 2011 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Ah, Rasheeed, u sound like someone who's never set foot in NYC. And you resorted to the old he-can't-even-get 20-inches-of-snow-off-the-streets argument to denigrate Bloomberg's stewardship of the schools. Very compelling.

Look (and I agree Tata's comments on Palin and smear of the President should foul him out), Tata has some things going for him. And, by all reports, Tata as a wild card is heck of a lot better than the last head of Wake County's system. He stands a better chance of success than, say, the supts. of DCPS until Rhee.

And for all the unionistas who fear the Mayor has forgotten all those backroom deals imagined by WTU, you ain't seen nothing yet.

As for the chaos, UD, it is the result mainly of unionista push-back and the usual sabotage and performance of a subset of misguided zealots, and also rooting for failure. They earned it, the The Children do not deserve it.

You cannot miss Gray's inaugural declaration that the schools are primarily for The Children.

The alert DCPS educator will realize that she/he works for the people and for the Mayor for the benefit of The Children. The truly effective teachers have always known this. Make sense?

Posted by: axolotl | January 2, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

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