By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Clifford B. Janey arrived in the District nearly three years ago, hailed by city leaders and the Board of Education as the career educator whose experience teaching low-achieving, urban children was just what the D.C. school system needed.
After six superintendents in 10 years, Janey reassured parents and students in September 2004 that he intended to stay put and "finish the job."
But Mayor Adrian M. Fenty decided that Janey, 60, would not finish the job.
Fenty (D) told Janey in an 11:30 p.m. telephone call Monday, less than an hour before the mayor officially gained control of the D.C. Public Schools, that Janey would not be appointed to the new chancellor position. A few hours later, Janey's school system e-mail account had been canceled.
Janey did not respond to telephone messages left at his home for comment. He did not report to school system headquarters yesterday, and building service staff spent the day clearing out his office.
But the fallout from Fenty's decision was immediate. Janey's chief of staff, Peter G. Parham, and special assistant Robert C. Rice, announced their resignations yesterday.
Fenty said his general counsel, Peter Nickles, was working with Janey to negotiate a buyout of his contract, which was extended in 2005 to last through June 2008.
Reserved and soft-spoken, Janey was hired to be an academic change agent, to set standards for what children should be taught in every classroom and create a test to measure that learning. To do that, he shepherded the creation of the master education plan and master facilities plan -- programs that the mayor and new chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee, 37, acknowledge they will use as the basis for their reforms.
Robert C. Bobb, president of the new D.C. State Board of Education (until Monday it was the D.C. Board of Education), said Janey's legacy as a deeply committed education expert cannot be ignored. "No one can question Dr. Janey's commitment to the children of the District of Columbia, nor should anyone question the foundation he's laid for this school system," Bobb said.
But parents and others said progress under Janey's leadership was slow, deadlines were missed and patience grew thin.
When parents and teachers at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Ward 3 were frustrated with budget cuts and sought to convert to a charter school, Janey reached out and agreed to work to give the school more autonomy, starting with control over its budget and some hiring.
"He really encouraged them," said Cathy Reilly, president of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, a group focused on reforming D.C. high schools.
But several years later, Wilson is no closer to gaining more autonomy. At the D.C. Board of Education meeting last week, Janey mentioned the proposal again, but it was unclear what its fate would be.
"He had a willingness to be creative and innovative, but we didn't have the action arm," Reilly said.
A middle school reading teacher who ascended to the top education posts in Boston and Rochester, N.Y., Janey grew up in a public housing complex in Boston. On the job in the District, Janey wore cuff links, monogrammed shirts and silk ties in solid bright colors.
Upon his arrival in the District in August 2004, he immediately visited three Northwest schools in poor condition, telling the media that he was disgusted with the conditions and vowing to immediately make repairs. But it still takes more than a year, on average, for repairs at schools across the city to be completed, though Fenty recently announced "blitz" repair programs.
At the time, Janey won high praise from then-council member Fenty, who applauded his eagerness and quick response. "I think he handled it well by physically getting out there," Fenty said then. "Oftentimes superintendents are a little bit removed from problems."
Iris Toyer, co-chair of Parents United for D.C. Public Schools, recalled that Janey, in one of his earliest appearances, addressed parents and students at Stanton Elementary, a poor and nearly all African American school in Southeast plagued by low test scores.
"He talked about his own beginnings," Toyer said. "I think people felt like he was a real brother who had not risen to a high level of government and forgotten what it was like to still struggle."
Toyer said she did not agree with how Fenty handled Janey's departure. "It's plain ol' good manners to me," she said. "There's a way you terminate people, and the activities that lead up to it that are not designed to humiliate a person."
Results from the first year of the new standardized test found just 19 of 146 campuses meeting academic benchmarks. Though disappointed, Janey said the results were simply a benchmark and showed the difficulty of the task.
"He showed courage with his willingness to raise the standards, in order to get a good look at where we were," said Sekou Biddle, who represents District 2 on the school board. "How many people would say, 'Let me do something so it looks like we're doing worse?' "