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Kaya Henderson, emerging from Rhee's shadow, faces new challenges

Since becoming interim chancellor after Michelle Rhee's abrupt departure in October, Kaya Henderson has brought a more naturally accessible style to the job.

"There has to be a hook," she said. "Can't just go to the game for free."

Like Rhee, Henderson works all hours. Among the juices and Arizona iced tea in the small refrigerator under her desk were several cans of Red Bull. One 5:30 a.m. e-mail said: "Once a month, you've gotta pull an all nighter to get caught up. A bad habit, but very effective."

Gray appointed Henderson through June, but there are no indications that he has launched the kind of outside search that would have to be well underway if he wanted someone else in place by the end of the academic year. Although Gray is legally bound by a formal review process to name a new school leader, he also said last month: "I'm not going to lie to you, I really like Kaya."

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and the influential network of private philanthropic donors who supported Rhee's initiatives, have also sent positive signals. Although it is early, her stock with the D.C. Council is high. Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) said she handled the turbulent environment surrounding her interim appointment with skill and grace.

"For someone to come in the way she did and operate to keep things moving, that shows the type of strength she has," Brown said.

This all assumes Henderson wants the job. She has expressed ambivalence when asked, which is either a decorous reluctance to appear too eager for the brass ring or a reflection of real doubt.

"People think that when you are an educator you clearly aspire to a superintendency or to be secretary of education. That's not true for me," she said. "There are a number of roles you can play in any organization, and the top dog is not always the most important one or the one that is best suited for you. There are absolutely reasons why I would totally want this job and absolutely reasons why I would totally not want this job. The truth of the matter is, I have to figure that out."


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