U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks up on D.C. schools leadership

Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 10, 2011; 8:22 PM

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday that he hopes interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson stays in the position "for the long haul," endorsing her strongly while Mayor Vincent C. Gray deliberates on his permanent choice for a new schools leader.

Duncan's praise of Henderson, in an interview with The Washington Post, injected the Obama administration into one of the new mayor's most critical appointments.

"I think Kaya's the right leader," Duncan said. "And I hope she sticks with it for the next 10 years."

In October, Gray (D) and then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) chose Henderson to fill in at the helm of the 45,000-student school system for the rest of the school year after Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee resigned.

Rhee, who had held the position since 2007, quit weeks after Gray defeated Fenty in the Democratic mayoral primary.

At that point, Duncan told The Post, he weighed in on Henderson's behalf. Henderson had been Rhee's deputy.

"The day Michelle left, I called [Gray] and said, 'Let's put Kaya in there,' " Duncan said. "And he said, 'I've always had a good relationship with Kaya. We've always worked well together.' "

Duncan, who has no formal role in the selection process, said he doesn't "want to micromanage this thing." But he noted that the federal government last year awarded D.C. schools $75 million in the Race to the Top school reform contest. "We're a partner," he said. "We're an investor."

Gray has said that he intends to follow a 2007 law that spells out a detailed review process, including consultation with the Washington Teachers' Union, before the mayor can nominate a chancellor.

Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for Gray, said Monday: "The mayor has also praised Ms. Henderson and believes that they are on the right page, the same page, in many areas in terms of school reform. With that said, he will go through the process mandated by the law for selecting a chancellor."

In an interview, Henderson laughed when told that Duncan said he hoped she would keep the job for 10 years. Then Henderson said that she and Gray had not discussed the matter, outside of Gray's assertion that he would follow the formal nomination process.

"He has not asked me whether I want the job or not," Henderson said.

Asked whether she does, she said: "I don't know."

She added: "At some point, [Gray] will probably ask the question, and I'll have to answer it."

andersonn@washpost.com turqueb@washpost.com

© 2011 The Washington Post Company