Michelle Rhee is leaving her job as D.C. schools chancellor at the end of the month, The Washington Examiner has learned.
Moving up, at least on an interim basis, will be Kaya Henderson, Rhee’s top deputy. Henderson follow Rhee over in 2007 from the New Teacher Project, an organization that recruits educators to work in urban public schools across the country, including D.C., New York, Atlanta, Baltimore and Chicago.
Rhee was appointed in 2007 by Mayor Adrian Fenty, who allowed her freedom to exercise reforms unseen in D.C.’s historically failing public school system. The new contract Rhee negotiated with the Washington Teacher’s Union effectively eliminated tenure and allowed her to fire about 240 teachers rated ineffective on classroom evaluations.
Rhee’s departure, should not come as a surprise. Rhee strongly suggested in July that she would quit if D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray won the Democratic mayoral nomination.
Her take-no-prisoners approach earned Rhee the respect of many fed up with the system and a title line in Paramount Pictures’ documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which explored broken school systems and painted Rhee as a heroine of reform.
But her actions also incensed the D.C. teacher’s union, whose parent union threw $1 million at the Gray’s mayoral campaign, and the primary became a referendum on Rhee’s reforms, with many voting against Fenty because they sided with the teachers.
Henderson was appointed alongside Rhee and has cooperated in her reform efforts. But sources say there are important differences between the two: Henderson is a good friend of Washington Teacher’s Union President George Parker, and is also African-American; critics often called out Fenty for appointing mostly white and Asian officials to his top posts.
Henderson has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University.
Robert Bobb, former president of the D.C. school board, said Henderson is “very smart, knows her way around the District, and understands education reform.”
“She’s tough minded, and from what I’ve seen she’s capable of holding people accountable without crushing them,” Bobb said.