Kaya Henderson reportedly getting some job security

Since becoming interim chancellor after Michelle Rhee's abrupt departure in October, Kaya Henderson has brought a more naturally accessible style to the job.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2011; 8:25 PM

Mayor Vincent C. Gray intends to name interim schools leader Kaya Henderson as permanent schools chancellor this week to replace Michelle A. Rhee, according to a source close to the situation.

Gray (D) has, by most accounts, never seriously considered any other potential leader of D.C. Public Schools. He recently appointed a chancellor selection advisory panel, as required by D.C. law, to evaluate any candidates he might recommend.

The panel has met once, on Feb. 24, and only one name was considered: Henderson, Rhee's former top deputy.

Henderson was appointed on an interim basis by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) - at Gray's request - after Rhee resigned last October. Gray also made sure that the city's business and philanthropic leadership, which was apprehensive about the future of school reform after the departure of Fenty and Rhee, was comfortable with Henderson.

Gray has made plain that he wants parent and community engagement to be more of a priority in school reform than it was in the Fenty-Rhee era. He looks to the personable Henderson, 40, to take on that task and to continue improving the schools without Rhee's style, which opponents found abrasive. Like Rhee, she is a onetime Teach for America recruit.

At least one member of the mayor's selection advisory panel is not happy with the narrowly cast search. Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said the one-candidate field violates both the letter and spirit of the 2007 law that sets up the search process.

In a letter to Gray posted on the union's Web site, Saunders said Henderson has proven herself to be as much of a union antagonist as Rhee in her four months on the job.

"Since her appointment as Interim Chancellor, Ms. Henderson has demonstrated that she has no intention of altering the path of her predecessor," Saunders wrote. "Through her actions, the relationship between DCPS and WTU has become incredibly strained."

Saunders cited disagreements over the IMPACT teacher evaluation system and Henderson's contention that Harvard economist Roland Fryer is an appropriate choice to conduct an independent study of the assessment instrument. Saunders says Fryer, a former D.C. schools consultant under Rhee whose Harvard think tank is funded by some of the same foundations that support IMPACT, cannot render an objective opinion.

Henderson, 40, who did not respond to an e-mail Sunday evening, has dealt with a series of difficult circumstances since taking the top job.

She has had to cut $50 million from the 2012 schools budget and untangle controversies she inherited from Rhee. These include the ouster of the outside management firm hired by Rhee to operate Dunbar High School and continuing turmoil over the leadership of Hardy Middle School in Georgetown.

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