Michelle Rhee resigns; Gray huddles with her successor

Area residents react to the resignation of D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.
By Tim Craig and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 6:38 PM

Presumptive mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray introduced Kaya Henderson on Wednesday as the interim chancellor of D.C. public schools and vowed that reforms launched under Michelle A. Rhee would continue when he takes office in January.

"We cannot and will not return to the days of incrementalism," said Gray, appearing at a news conference with Rhee, Henderson and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who will formally appoint Henderson at Gray's request.

Later in the day, Gray, the D.C. Council chairman, met privately with Henderson for more than 90 minutes in his office in the John A. Wilson Building. They were joined for part of the time by Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, perhaps signaling that Gray and Henderson are already grappling with issues related to the District's large budget shortfall.

Gray and Henderson hugged as the meeting broke up. Gandhi declined comment as he left, and Henderson said she needed "fifteen minutes to breathe."

"A lot has happened today," she said, adding she will begin formal media interviews within a few days.

In Henderson, Gray inherits someone in tune with Rhee on the fundamentals of education reform, especially the belief that teacher quality is the most important determinant of student success. Rhee and Henderson worked together at the New Teacher Project, a teacher recruiting nonprofit group that Rhee founded and ran before she was appointed by Fenty in June 2007. Henderson was a vice president for the group.

She was Rhee's first appointment and was named her top deputy the day Rhee was introduced to the District. At the time, Rhee made it sound as if they had come to the District as a package.

"I told Kaya, 'I can't do this without you,' " Rhee said at the time. "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."

At the news conference Wednesday, Henderson told reporters, "I'm excited about where we are, and I'm thrilled that the management team has agreed to stay on to continue this process."

Gray said that while he has "no intention of micromanaging DCPS," he asked Henderson to keep the school system's senior leadership in place until at least the end of the current school year. Henderson is regarded within the Gray camp as a potential permanent successor to Rhee.

The group took only a handful of questions from a hotel conference room packed with journalists, and neither Gray nor Rhee shed light on what they called a "mutual decision" to part ways.

In a prepared statement, Rhee said that leaving after nearly 31/2 turbulent years was "heartbreaking," but she said Gray "deserves the opportunity to work toward his goal of 'One City' with a team that shares his vision, can keep progress going and help bridge the divide."

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