Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who hasn’t had much to feel comfortable about over the last few weeks, says that’s exactly where he is when it comes to his search for a permanent schools chancellor. Speaking to reporters Monday, Gray would not confirm the worst-kept secret in D.C. education circles: that this week he will appoint the one person whose name he sent to his selection advisory committee: Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Asked if he owed the city a more thorough search for a schools leader--given the importance of the position and in light of recent disclosures about his administration’s vetting and hiring practices--Gray said: “I think what we owe to citizens is to select the person who is best suited to lead the D.C. public schools ,” he said during a press briefing Monday at D.C. Prep Edgewood Middle Campus, a public charter school in Northeast. Without mentioning Henderson, who was standing just behind him, Gray said the best vetting process is watching someone serve in the position.
“Frankly, if we’ve got someone who has a track record, someone who we know, I think that benefits a vetting process,” he said. “Someone who we’ve seen in operation, someone whose leadership skills have been demonstrated and who has lived in the city for some time. So I’m comfortable with the process we’ve used.”
As a practical matter, Gray has been so categorical about his preference for Henderson it’s hard to imagine that anyone with serious credentials would even want to compete for the job at this point.
The panel’s co-chairs both defended its work Monday. “A lengthy search process in my view would have been both a distraction and unnecessary,” said Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund. He said he understood that those who crossed swords with Michelle Rhee, especially the union, consider Henderson too closely aligned with her predecessor. But he said: “In my view, Kaya is her own person. She is tough, she is committed and absolutely thoughtful. She will do this work very differently than it’s been done in the past.”
In addition to WTU president Nathan Saunders, the panel included four teachers (named by the city), four parents, two students and two principals. It met for about five hours on Feb. 24 at the Reeves Center. Co-chair Katherine Bradley, president of the CityBridge Foundation, served as a facilitator for the discussion, which participants said was broken into two basic parts: what residents wanted to see in the next chancellor and whether Henderson fit those criteria.
We must have filled up 20 easels of paper,” said Daniel Holt, head of the PTA at Brent Elementary in Ward 6. He said panel members were essentially seeking someone “with deft communications skills, the ability to make decisions and to tell people bad news in a way that they are willing to receive it.”
Holt said no formal vote was taken, but that the closing statements from each member reflected a heavy consensus for Henderson. In the end, he said, he said that he too was comfortable with the process.
“I think she’s demonstrated in the short time she’s been interim chancellor that she listens to the community, stakes out a common ground position, but also acts boldly and quickly on matters,” Holt said. He cited two decisions: to give River Terrace Elementary, originally scheduled for closure in June, another year to build its enrollment, and her ouster of the New York management firm that operated Dunbar High School, in response to complaints that discipline had collapsed there.