Fenty's Picks Have Ties to System, And Its Reforms

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The two top people chosen to lead the D.C. public schools under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty are both from a program that has played a leading role in streamlining the school system's troubled human resources department.

Michelle A. Rhee, Fenty's choice for the new position of D.C. schools chancellor, has chosen as her deputy a longtime colleague, Kaya Henderson, who previously ran the D.C. operation of the New Teacher Project. Rhee was the organization's chief executive.

The New Teacher Project is nationally known for drawing recruits from non-education backgrounds into the urban teaching ranks. In the District, the organization has two contracts with the school system totaling $980,000 a year to overhaul the process used to fill teacher vacancies.

Henderson said she and her staff greatly expanded efforts to hire teachers, sending recruiters to as far away as Puerto Rico. They also helped streamline the process by allowing teachers to apply for openings online.

They negotiated an agreement with the Washington Teachers' Union that allowed the system to hire new teachers in March, instead of during the summer after veteran teachers who have lost their place at schools with declining enrollment have been transferred.

"For the last five years, they have been instrumental in ensuring that we can fill our vacancies with highly qualified teachers," said Valarie Sheppard, the system's director of staffing and recruitment. The organization helped "us in developing new processes and best practices."

Last year, the group led the system's effort to deal with some 1,100 uncertified teachers, whom Janey threatened to fire. Because the system was unable to replace so many teachers at once, Henderson said she persuaded Janey to keep the teachers who were within a year of receiving certification. He ended up dismissing only 370 teachers, allowing hundreds of others to stay with the understanding that they would complete required coursework by the end of this month.

Erika L. Wesley, the system's licensure administrator, said the organization helped the system develop a better screening process to ensure that more certified teachers are hired.

The organization "provided us upfront analysis telling us if this person is a good match for this position based on their qualifications," she said.

Henderson said her first priority as deputy chancellor would be to repair the human resources operation. The system spent $25 million on a computer system to manage personnel that had to be discarded because there was no accurate list of employees to use as a starting point. The system relies on paper records stacked in 200 cardboard boxes to keep track of employees and in some cases is five years behind in processing staff paperwork.

In an e-mail note to "family and friends," Henderson said she welcomed the opportunity to bring "the level of rigor and focus on results that we've demonstrated at [the New Teacher Project] to students in D.C."

Despite progress in helping the system recruit more than 300 teachers a year, "it's been so difficult working through the staffing department," Henderson said yesterday. "We end up doing everything we can to support the staff."

The first priority in improving the system, she added, "is attracting talent to the classroom," added Henderson, 37. If the human resources staff "can't meet that goal, then we'll have to talk about finding someplace else for them to work."

Until recently, Henderson was a board member of EdBuild, an organization that has drawn fire from community groups for winning a noncompetitive $57.6 million construction contract with the D.C. Board of Education. Neil O. Albert, Fenty's deputy mayor for economic development, was EdBuild's first executive director. Henderson said she plans to resign as a board member of the D.C. Preparatory Academy charter school today.

Rhee said that as she considered Fenty's offer to become chancellor, "I told Kaya, 'I can't do this without you.' She's everything you'd want in a leader. She has an ability to motivate people. She's a critical thinker, and she's an innovative thinker."

Staff writer Theola Labbé contributed to this report.

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