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Posted at 7:27 PM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Gray 'comfortable' with schools chief selection process

By Bill Turque

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who hasn't had much to feel comfortable about over the last few weeks, says that's exactly where he is when it comes to his search for a permanent schools chancellor.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Gray would not confirm the worst-kept secret in D.C. education circles: that this week he will appoint the one person whose name he sent to his selection advisory committee: Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Asked whether he owed the city a more thorough search for a schools leader -- given the importance of the position and in light of recent disclosures about his administration's vetting and hiring practices -- Gray said: "I think what we owe to citizens is to select the person who is best suited to lead the D.C. public schools," he said during a press briefing Monday at D.C. Prep Edgewood Middle Campus, a public charter school in Northeast.

Without mentioning Henderson, who was standing just behind him, Gray said the best vetting process is watching someone serve in the position.

"Frankly, if we've got someone who has a track record, someone who we know, I think that benefits a vetting process," he said. "Someone who we've seen in operation, someone whose leadership skills have been demonstrated and who has lived in the city for some time. So I'm comfortable with the process we've used."

As a practical matter, Gray has been so categorical about his preference for Henderson it's hard to imagine that anyone with serious credentials would even want to compete for the job at this point.

The panel's co-chairs defended its work Monday.

"A lengthy search process in my view would have been both a distraction and unnecessary," said Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund. He said he understood that those who crossed swords with Michelle Rhee, especially the union, consider Henderson too closely aligned with her predecessor. But he said: "In my view, Kaya is her own person. She is tough, she is committed and absolutely thoughtful. She will do this work very differently than it's been done in the past."

In addition to WTU president Nathan Saunders, the panel included four teachers (named by the city), four parents, two students and two principals. It met for about five hours on Feb. 24 at the Reeves Center. Co-chair Katherine Bradley, president of the CityBridge Foundation, served as a facilitator for the discussion, which participants said was broken into two basic parts: what residents wanted to see in the next chancellor and whether Henderson fit those criteria.

"We must have filled up 20 easels of paper," said Daniel Holt, head of the PTA at Brent Elementary in Ward 6. He said panel members were essentially seeking someone "with deft communications skills, the ability to make decisions and to tell people bad news in a way that they are willing to receive it."

Holt said no formal vote was taken, but that the closing statements from each member reflected a heavy consensus for Henderson. In the end, he said, he said that he too was comfortable with the process.

"I think she's demonstrated in the short time she's been interim chancellor that she listens to the community, stakes out a common-ground position, but also acts boldly and quickly on matters," Holt said. He cited two decisions: to give River Terrace Elementary, originally scheduled for closure in June, another year to build its enrollment, and her ouster of the New York management firm that operated Dunbar High School, in response to complaints that discipline had collapsed there.

By Bill Turque  | March 7, 2011; 7:27 PM ET
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WTU must have just vomited! Go Kaya! Perhaps, DCPS has a chance after all. After spending millions of dollars to rid the district of Rhee they got her protege...poetic justice!!

Posted by: teacher6402 | March 7, 2011 8:57 PM | Report abuse

You're just one letter away from W, Vincent:

"The soft bigotry of low expectations"

Funny thing is: The way your Mayoralty is going, if DCPS test scores don't go up this Spring (no matter what that means, substantively), Vincent Gray will be blamed. Not Shelly, not BGF and soul-sister Kaya. Nothing will have changed for the better in four years except, Kansas City style, new buildings

That will make no sense, but with your 50 years of adult maturity and experience, Vince, you'll understand and accept it better than anyone.

Posted by: incredulous | March 7, 2011 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Mayor Gray has shown courage, independence, and integrity in make this thoughtful decision. I completely agree that Kaya Henderson is "best suited to lead the DC public schools". Kaya is uniquely capable of advancing important DCPS reforms Michelle Rhee started.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 7, 2011 9:23 PM | Report abuse

As a DCPS parent I am alarmed that Kaya Henderson is advocating closing down more DC Public Schools as well as increasing class sizes to 40.

This will only drive more parents and teachers out of DCPS and into charter schools. But that is the plan isn't it?

Posted by: letsbereal2 | March 7, 2011 10:27 PM | Report abuse

"...panel members were essentially seeking someone "with deft communications skills, the ability to make decisions and to tell people bad news in a way that they are willing to receive it."

So this is the measure of a good public school leader? I don't see anything about teaching and learning here, or curriculum development or pedagogy.

Guess that pales in comparison to the ability to deftly deliver bad news.

Posted by: efavorite | March 7, 2011 11:50 PM | Report abuse

bill turque i see how lies an hiprocasy dont let the truth come out.and to be clear Mr Holt doesnt speak for the know thats the truth,but you dont care you care about your paycheck.enjoy.

Posted by: cayeycatering | March 8, 2011 6:28 AM | Report abuse

"...panel members were essentially seeking someone "with deft communications skills, the ability to make decisions and to tell people bad news in a way that they are willing to receive it."

We were looking for leadership and this is what Gray delivered. People here need to get a little Wisconsin in them.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | March 8, 2011 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Why would you have the president of the union on the decision board instead of real educators? Saunders represents the interests of those that want to create an adversarial relationship, not those that want to keep moving forward.

Posted by: staticvars | March 8, 2011 9:27 AM | Report abuse

It only took to two recent decisions for the Mayor to make his decision about Ms. Henderson. What if, it was only two recent decisions in the past 70 days that district citizens took into consideration regarding the Mayor? How would he fair in comparison?

Mayor Gray, this is not a basketball game, where the need to make two-points is the game winner. Once an athlete, always an athlete.

Where's the referees?

Posted by: PowerandPride | March 8, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

The Mayor of all the People is on the Right Path.

Posted by: WorkersOfTheWorld | March 8, 2011 3:08 PM | Report abuse

The Most Important thing is for our Mayor to be "comfortable."

Posted by: WorkersOfTheWorld | March 9, 2011 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I agree, it is essential that the mayor is comfy. But it is more important that the children are served in the best way possible. Mr. Gray will need to reminded frequently what to do about the schools, in order to do what the majority of voters asked him to do. Yes, I agree--he is on the right path.

Posted by: OrdinaryDCPerson | March 10, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

To staticvars:

If you read the legislation of 2007 which gave the mayor control over the schools, you would know that the teachers' union is a member of the panel---by law! You don't have to agree with it but you do have to follow it.

So staticvars, do some homework before you open your mouth. This is exactly what happens when people who don't know any better, think they do!

Posted by: teachdc | March 10, 2011 6:56 PM | Report abuse

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