Gray taps three outsiders for D.C. schools, employment posts

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 10:18 PM

Breaking his streak of tapping local talent to join his Cabinet, D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray unveiled a trio of nationally known professionals Wednesday to help him tackle the city's public education system and high unemployment rate.

Gray's nominations for deputy mayor for education, state superintendent and director of the Department of Employment Services were surprises after a string of reappointments and promotions of his own staff and current members of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration.

De'Shawn A. Wright, a 35-year-old chief policy adviser to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and a founding partner of a charter school fund, will be the new deputy mayor for education. Hosanna Mahaley, who was chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when he headed Chicago public schools, will be the new state superintendent. Rochelle L. Webb, president of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies and an administrator for the Arizona Department of Economic Security, will head up employment services.

All of the nominees - the subjects of national searches by Gray's transition team - must be approved by the D.C. Council.

The searches went quickly. Wright said in an interview that he was first contacted about a week ago. "This opportunity resonated with me," said Wright, who also worked in the New York City Department of Education and was responsible for opening 35 traditional and charter schools there.

When asked how long he interviewed with Gray, Wright said: "Enough time to realize we are philosophically aligned."

It was widely speculated and reported that Gray (D) would announce the nomination of interim schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to take on the job permanently.

Henderson, considered a more amiable version of predecessor and friend Michelle A. Rhee, is a leading candidate for the job, sources in the transition team said.

But Gray said he would follow the vetting process as outlined in the 2007 law that established mayoral control of public education and created the schools chancellor post.

Gray said the newcomers hailed from jurisdictions that were "similar, if not identical to the District of Columbia" and that he was looking for candidates with "a collaborative spirit."

The incoming mayor, who takes office Jan. 2, had been critical of Fenty's implementation of mayoral control of public education, which he says has been chancellor-centric with a weak deputy mayor and little support for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

In the District, the superintendent functions in some ways as a liaison between city schools and the federal government. The holder of that position oversees testing and accountability programs for all public schools, regular and charter.

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