- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It was hard to hear the specific words in the cavernous lobby of the Homer Building last week, but the message as well as the sour sentiment was unmistakable. Those hundred or so well-wishers gathered at the D.C. Voice farewell reception for outgoing D.C. Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey were determined to make amends.

Yet the accolades they heaped on the esteemed career educator — who embodies the model fall guy brought to D.C. residents by their neophyte mayor, Adrian M. Fenty — also hurled a thinly veiled barb toward Gen. Greenhorn and his Baby Bullpen Brigade.

Oh, to be sure, the polite words were dripping with diplomacy, but they sliced and diced both ways during the overdue acknowledgment of Mr. Janey”s achievements.

Cherita Whiting, a Ward 4 parent and community activist, told Mr. Janey that although he was fired in an indecorous way, she wanted him to know that “not all D.C. residents have forgotten their manners, and we want to thank you.” Thursday”s reception was the first time Mr. Janey had appeared publicly since his ill-mannered late night ouster by Mr. Fenty. By now everyone should know that the Young Gun announced his curious choice for schools chancellor, teacher-advocate Michelle A. Rhee, to his blind-faith supporters at The Washington Post even before notifying either the superintendent or the D.C. Council.

So, the most suspect and surprising of the syrupy litany of praises for Mr. Janey”s underrated achievements in just 2½ short years came from none other than D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

During a 10-minute pep-rally-style rant, the leader of the council”s mean-spirited kangaroo court — which arrested, convicted and executed the D.C. Board of Education and Mr. Janey — transformed himself into the unceremoniously ousted superintendent”s biggest cheerleader. He even pledged to present a resolution honoring Mr. Janey for his pioneering work.

My, my, what a difference midnight stabs in the back can make.

“Dr. Janey, it”s your fault that we now have a plan that others will follow,” Mr. Gray shouted to the marbled rafters. “Dr. Janey, you”re to blame for our students now having standards.” On-and-on-and-on the glowing diatribe went. It was so corny, it was comical. It was so hypocritical, it was shameful.

I saw a lot of eyes rolling and heard a lot of disbelieving mouths utter “hmmm.” Funny, politicians really do think that the public suffers from short-term memory. But few in the obviously Janey-friendly crowd had forgotten how this quiet, gracious man was publicly pilloried and embarrassingly dismissed.

“I”m really sorry this happened to him; he”s a nice man,” whispered one woman to another. She was not alone.

For his part, Mr. Janey remained true to his trademark studious, calm and gracious manner. Even so, he noted that his plans for reform did not come from “anybody”s head,” an obvious reference to the acknowledged plagiarism of Victor Reinoso, the inexperienced deputy mayor for education.

Now that the mayor’s takeover of the schools is done, it”s about time to flip the script on Mr. Janey”s critics and set the record straight. In his relatively short tenure, the District”s last in a long line of berated superintendents was not to blame for all that has ailed the District’s public schools for decades.

To the contrary, Mr. Janey had the thankless task of quietly laying a solid foundation for academic reforms and standards that ultimately will be the legacy he leaves for D.C. schoolchildren.

Stacy Davis Stewart, president of the Fannie Mae Foundation, offered a cautionary tale and chastised D.C. residents and leaders for expecting quick fixes when the needed changes require more time and cooperative efforts.

Mrs. Stewart, too, thanked Mr. Janey for his achievements, including creating expectations and laying down a strong foundation “in only 2½ years.” She hinted that even though his successor has being given four to five years to reform the system, that may not be enough time given the city’s history.

So add Mr. Janey”s name to the parade of superintendents who dared to step into the lion”s den that is the District”s highly politicized school system. All manner of highly hailed folks have been brought here only to be booed and booted out before they can find out how to get to Kenilworth Gardens or Barry Farms unescorted.

The sad truth about Mr. Janey is that his biggest failing in this chew-‘em-up-and-spit-‘em-out town is that he simply did not pay enough attention to watching his political backside. It’s too bad that this academician first and foremost thought all he was supposed to do was work with the community to develop comprehensive and meaningful plans to help the city’s children learn. Or, that he spent most of his time trying to bring universal prekindergarten or after-school programs to latchkey children.

While it can be argued that Mr. Janey”s reforms were not implemented fast enough, it must be acknowledged that he actually created meaningful initiatives that are destined to improve academic achievement. If it were not so, then Mr. Fenty and Mrs. Rhee would not be so quick to concede that they intend to build on the reforms that Mr. Janey wrought.

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