Melissa Kim’s resignation sounds more like the beginning of a sabbatical than the end of a career at DCPS.
“I don’t think I’m done with D.C. Public Schools,” said Kim, who will leave Deal Middle School in December after seven years as principal. “I think this is a couple of years and then back to the District.”
Kim announced last week that she will join NewSchools Venture Fund, an education philanthropy that invests in teacher training, technology and charter schools. Jonathan Schorr, partner and chief of staff, said Kim will work for the organization’s DC Schools Fund on an initiative to strengthen the instructional expertise of charter school leaders.
Kim, 35, said her other priority will be “a little guy who came last year,” her 16-month old son. Keeping principal’s hours that routinely begin at 7 a.m. made it difficult to get enough time with him.
Her work for the DC Schools Fund will involve ”taking a lot of lessons learned at Deal,” Kim said. The Ward 3 school became a coveted destination for families across the District on her watch. Among its drawing cards is the International Baccalaureate program, the city’s first middle school to offer one.
Kim said she intends to demonstrate that gains at a school such as Deal are not at risk when leadership changes.
“I believe that a school’s success isn’t dependent on one person and that my departure will be proof of that,” she said. “We’ve hired some incredible teachers and moved out some others.” Her interim replacement as principal, Jim Albright, headed the IB program at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston before coming to Deal a couple of years ago
Kim, like former Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee the daughter of Korean immigrants, clearly came to Deal with something to prove when she was named principal in 2005.
“There are a lot of women principals at the elementary level, but not at the middle school and certainly not many Asian women principals,” she told the Colby College alumni magazine in 2007. “I don't have a network like that. I’ve always been the only Asian kid doing something.”
Not everyone is sorry to see her leave. A Washington Teachers’ Union document obtained by the Examiner in 2007 said Kim frequently “admonished” and “disrespected” teachers and school staff “in front of other staff, faculty and students in most unprofessional tones of voice.”
During the same period, a small group of parents said Kim unfairly singled out African American and Hispanic students for discipline. But the parent leadership at the time defended Kim vigorously and now regrets her departure.
“A huge loss. I was very sorry to hear of it,” Diana Rojas, PTA co-president, said in an e-mail last week. “Hopefully, she’ll take her big and good ideas to ameliorate other schools in the city.”