Jack Evans's ill-considered bid to make D.C. school decisions

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

APPARENTLY, NEITHER his work as the Ward 2 D.C. Council member nor his job at a blue-chip law firm keeps Jack Evans (D) busy enough. How else to explain his desire to do Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson's job? Mr. Evans's bid to force a personnel decision on Ms. Henderson is the very epitome of the micromanagement of schools he has long decried. Even worse, it's politicizing education for his own crass interests.

Mr. Evans introduced a bill this week to force the reinstatement of Patrick Pope as principal at Hardy Middle School in Georgetown. Mr. Pope was reassigned from Hardy last year. The ostensible reason was to design a new arts magnet school, but there were reports that the administration believed his admission standards were not in keeping with District policy and had made the school inaccessible to neighborhood and other children. The resulting controversy became a flash point in the tenure of former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and was an issue in last fall's mayoral election, with then-Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) siding with the parents who favored the principal's reinstatement.

Now mayor, Mr. Gray has wisely chosen to stand by the decisions of the professionals who are in charge of school operations. Ms. Henderson, a key member of Ms. Rhee's management team who nonetheless has not been shy about departing from decisions made by the former chancellor, has undertaken her own assessment of the school, and she doesn't think that it's in the best interests of the school for Mr. Pope to be returned. Contrary to overblown reports, Hardy is not a school in chaos but one that is experiencing stresses typical to a middle school. The constant churn about school leadership doesn't help, but surely Mr. Pope is not alone in his ability to lead Hardy.

What makes Mr. Evans's legislation so appalling is that he really knows better, as evidenced by his acknowledgment that "micromanaging is not a good idea." It seems, though, that this veteran lawmaker - no doubt looking ahead to his next election - is tired of the phone calls from a pack of persistent and vocal parents. So, to get them off his back, he comes up with an ill-advised piece of legislation that, if approved, starts the council down the slippery slope of becoming the next school board. It also undermines any ability of supervisors to hold people accountable. If Mr. Pope is reinstated, who would dare question him or, for that matter, any principal who can muster a dozen or so parents with the ability to gin up some political heat?

Mr. Gray was right to make clear that he will not sign this bill if the council makes the mistake of passing it. "I think we have a chancellor who appoints principals," he said. And, that really should be the final word in a debate that has gone on for far too long.


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