- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

D.C. parents and students may never know whether interim schools chief Kaya Henderson faced stiff competition to permanently succeed Michelle A. Rhee as chancellor, but Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Wednesday that she now holds the $275,000-per-year job and the title.

The Washington Teachers Union, whose members backed Mr. Gray’s mayoral campaign, is not happy with the choice for several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that no national search was conducted — a possible breach of the D.C. law that established the chancellor post.

In addition, union leaders have been barking about marks Ms. Henderson has left on school reform, such as the teacher-evaluation tool called Impact, which the mayor calls unfair, the union calls flawed and Ms. Henderson said is undergoing changes.

Mr. Gray tried to assure parents and other stakeholders by saying that he considers Ms. Henderson the best fit for his brand of school reform.

A former teacher and Ms. Rhee’s No. 2 with the District’s public schools since 2007, Ms. Henderson had never run a school system until she was named interim chancellor in October.

“I have confidence in her judgment and her character,” Mr. Gray said, “and I want her imprint on our schools as we build a high-performing system steeped in the notion that every single child can and will learn.”

He also tried to silence critics, including teachers, for his arm’s-length approach to seeking candidates.

“Did we conduct a national search? No, we did not,” the mayor said. “We didn’t think it was appropriate to conduct a national search only to wind up at the same place.”

Mr. Gray could have allowed Ms. Henderson to continue serving as interim chancellor until the end of the school year while he further pondered a permanent replacement — a scenario that seemed likely last fall after Ms. Rhee’s departure.

At that time, George Parker was president of the teachers union, and he considered Ms. Rhee a tough negotiator. He characterized Ms. Henderson, with whom he brokered a groundbreaking deal, “more collaborative.”

Since then, union members have ousted Mr. Parker in favor of Nathan Saunders, a veteran D.C. teacher and guardian of tenure and teacher development.

As union chief, Mr. Saunders was a member of the chancellor selection panel, and he accuses the mayor of breaching the D.C. Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007, which states that the mayor will provide “resumes and other pertinent information pertaining to the individuals under consideration, if any, to the panel.”

Mr. Saunders said that wasn’t the case at all.

“The only resume submitted to the [mayor’s selection] panel for consideration was the resume of Ms. Henderson,” Mr. Saunders said in a Feb. 24 report to Mr. Gray offering feedback on the selection process.

He also criticized Impact, the tool used by D.C. Public Schools to evaluate teacher performance.

Mr. Saunders said the program is fundamentally biased against teachers.

At Wednesday’s announcement, Ms. Henderson said Mr. Saunders told her some months back that Impact was on a list of his members’ concerns, and that she asked him to forward the concerns to her.

She said she had not received the list.

As for Impact, “an external review of Impact is already under way,” she said.

Ms. Henderson’s appointment still must be confirmed by the D.C. Council.

Said D.C. Council member Michael Brown, at-large independent, “In these past few months, I have gotten to know Ms. Henderson as a bright and thoughtful individual who will continue to carry out the needed reform efforts, started by her predecessor, with a diplomatic and inclusive attitude toward those most affected.”

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