DC Principal Leaves Prestigious Public School for NSVF

As principal at Alice Deal, Melissa Kim runs the most renowned public middle school in the DC, but Kim has announced that she is leaving in December to join New Schools Venture Fund, the San Francisco-based philanthropic non-profit that invests in and supports public charter schools — and that is looking to raise its profile in the District, writes Bill Turque at the Washington Post.

Kim announced her departure in a statement posted on the Deal Web site today:

"I write to share with you that I have made the very difficult choice to leave Alice Deal. I am joining the national education organization New Schools Venture Fund, where I will have the opportunity to work with schools throughout DC. My commitment to the students and families of Washington, DC, remains ever strong. I will remain at Deal as advisor and coach until December to ensure a smooth transition for our students and staff."

Kim, who has headed Deal for seven years, said her reasons are both personal and professional, including an interest in taking what she's learned at Deal to other schools. James Albright, assistant principal and IB coordinator, will be interim principal, Kim said.

Her work for the DC Schools Fund will involve "taking a lot of lessons learned at Deal," Kim said. The Ward 3 school became a coveted destination for families across the District on her watch. Among its drawing cards is the International Baccalaureate program, the city's first middle school to offer one, Turque writes in a different article at the Washington Post.

Kim, like former Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, is the daughter of Korean immigrants. She clearly came to Deal with something to prove when she was named principal in 2005, writes Turque.

"There are a lot of women principals at the elementary level, but not at the middle school and certainly not many Asian women principals," she told the Colby College alumni magazine in 2007. "I don't have a network like that. I've always been the only Asian kid doing something."

Not everyone is sorry to see her leave. A Washington Teachers' Union document obtained by the Examiner in 2007 said Kim frequently "admonished" and "disrespected" teachers and school staff "in front of other staff, faculty and students in most unprofessional tones of voice."

During the same period, a small group of parents said Kim unfairly singled out African American and Hispanic students for discipline, writes Turque. But the parent leadership at the time defended Kim vigorously and now regrets her departure.

"A huge loss. I was very sorry to hear of it," Diana Rojas, PTA co-president, said in an e-mail last week. "Hopefully, she'll take her big and good ideas to ameliorate other schools in the city."

New Schools Venture Fund's site lists several D.C. public charter schools as among its investments, including Achievement Prep, Appletree, D.C. Prep, E.L. Haynes, Friendship and KIPP. It has also established funds targeted to foster charter school growth and improvement in specific cities, including D.C., Boston and Newark.

To Turque, Melissa Kim's resignation sounds more like the beginning of a sabbatical than the end of a career at DCPS.

"I don't think I'm done with D.C. Public Schools," said Kim, who will leave Deal Middle School in December after her seventh year as principal. "I think this is a couple of years and then back to the District."

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