Kaya Henderson: A Hugger and a Closer

Flickr: ghbrett

"Hugs": a word I don't associate with Michelle A. Rhee.

Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is a friend of Michelle Rhee’s; Rhee, the controversial former broom-wielder, is also Henderson’s mentor. And yet, Henderson does things a little differently:

Since becoming interim chancellor after Rhee’s abrupt departure in October, Henderson has brought a more naturally accessible style to the job. At meetings around town, her entrance often comes with a broad smile and a round of hugs. “She wasn’t a hugger,” Henderson said of her predecessor.

Some skeptics have already suggested that Henderson is simply “Rhee-light.” But friends say those who who doubt her toughness, or her resolve to preserve Rhee’s emphasis on teacher quality and accountability, are underestimating Henderson.

“People are just starting to learn about her because she was under such a shadow with Michelle Rhee,” said Jacques Patterson, chairman of the Ward 8 Democrats and project director at the Federal City Council, an influential group of business and civic leaders active in education reform. “Kaya is very focused, very clear thinking and knows where she wants to go. She can be as hard charging as Michelle Rhee but she won’t be a bull in a china shop, breaking china.”

See? She’s a “hugger”. As for “closer”, this is what happened after a meeting with students, staff members and parents from River Terrace Elementary in Northeast, a school marked for closure:

The evening was filled with accusations of injustice, disregard for children and a larger plan to destabilize the neighborhood. Henderson ended the meeting with a distinctly un-Rhee-like statement.

“What you said here tonight spoke to my heart,” she said, promising that they would “work together” to see what could be done.

Later, however, driving back downtown in her official SUV, Henderson said the under-enrolled school would be difficult to save.

The entire, in-depth article is a must-read if you’re concerned about D.C.’s schools.