Fenty Appoints First Public Education Ombudsman

By David Nakamura and Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 25, 2007; 2:06 PM

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced today that he has chosen a former D.C. school board member as the first ombudsman for public education in the District.

Tonya Vidal Kinlow "will be the city's face of customer service for education," Fenty said in a statement released by his office. Kinlow, the mayor said, was the final major appointment of his education team.

The ombudsman position is considered critical to Fenty's school reform effort. The mayor convinced the D.C. Council to downgrade the D.C. Board of Education in the spring and give him direct control of the 50,000-student school system. Fenty appointed as chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who is making changes to the school system's central office.

As part of his takeover, Fenty promised parents that an ombudsman would be named to investigate their complaints, since the school board's role had been diminished. But the administration took months to finally select a person to fill the job.

Kinlow, 46, serves as vice president for government relations at the District of Columbia Hospital Association and is an appointed member and vice president of the D.C. State Board of Education. She also is the vice chairman of the board of DC Voice, an advocacy group for schools.

Kinlow said she will resign from the hospital association and the state board upon starting as the ombudsman. Fenty aides said Kinlow, whose appointment will need approval by the D.C. Council, is expected to begin work in an acting capacity in December. She will be paid between $130,000 and $140,000 per year.

Administration officials said it remains unclear how much staff Kinlow will have. Her office will be located at the District government buildings at 441 Fourth St. NW -- not at school headquarters or the mayor's office. Parents or school employees will be able to reach her after she starts her job by calling the mayor's call center at 202-727-1000.

Fenty introduced Kinlow to reporters at a morning news conference at Leckie Elementary School in Southwest. The news conference was attended by her husband, Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, Chancellor Rhee, state board President Robert C. Bobb and other officials.

Kinlow was selected after months of deliberation by the Fenty team. The mayor and his aides said they considered 80 r¿sum¿s during a nationwide search, bringing a half dozen candidates in for interviews.

Kinlow did not initially apply and, in fact, had filled in for Bobb, who was a member of the mayor's ombudsman search committee, during an interview of one candidate. Bobb, Rhee and Deputy Mayor Victor Reinoso said they were so impressed by Kinlow's performance during that session that they asked her to apply for the job.

"I concluded that because I would like to see the system get fixed, I could serve in this capacity and it is a pretty important role," Kinlow said.

Fenty said Kinlow is "well regarded in the community, cognizant of education issues, locally and nationally, and brings a fervor and passion for reform. I'm confident that in choosing this ombudsman, we chose someone who is way ahead of any other person we interviewed."

Kinlow lives in Ward 8, and she becomes one of the few high-level aides that Fenty has appointed who live East of the Anacostia River. He has been criticized for not having enough representatives from Wards 7 and 8.

Before Fenty appointed Kinlow to the state board this spring, she had previously served as an elected at-largemember when the school board was in charge of the system. Kinlow chaired several policymaking committees, including the public charter school committee. She directed the development and adoption of the rules that govern the public charter schools approved by the board and was the primary sponsor of board policy establishing a new system of accountability standards. The standards included citywide reading and math achievement goals for public school children and smaller class size in all D.C. public schools.

Kinlow earlier served as government relations manager for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. and worked on the legislative staffs of Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and then-Rep. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), before he was elected to the Senate.

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