Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Head of Nonprofit To Head DC Schools

Michelle Rhee has been named Chancellor of the Washington DC Schoolsat a news conference this morning.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has fired D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and wants to replace him with the founder of a New York-based teacher-training organization, a dramatic step that signals the mayor's desire to bring "radical change" to the failing 55,000-student system.

On the day he assumed control of the schools, Fenty (D) announced at a morning news conference that he has tapped Michelle A. Rhee for the new job of schools chancellor.
Well, no one can accuse Fenty of making small gestures.

What is interesting is that Fenty's choice does point to where he intends to put his focus--on the teaching corps. Rhee is the first non-black leader in almost 40 years and the first person since Gen. Julius Becton in the mid 1990's to come to the job without any superintendant experience. Fenty explained his reasoning thusly:
Fenty said he was seeking someone who had not already been a superintendent with a long history inside a district. Too many "career superintendents" move from job to job, staying only a few years at each stop, Fenty said.

"I wanted a real difference-maker, someone who would stay with the mayor the entire time the mayor is there, instead of moving constantly," he said.
Of course only time will tell if Rhee is indeed a difference maker.

Rhee comes to a district that is, for lack of a better term, in shambles. As the Washington Post has detailed over the past three days, the DC edcuation system seems more geared to serving the adults that work in the system than the children who attend the schools. Rhee's former group, the New Teacher Project, has a number of studies dealing with how school systems keep high quality teachers out of urban schools and how union contracts regarding staffing need to be reworked. Such positions are not likely to endear her to the education establishment in DC, but if she can force some changes, it may be possible that Rhee can succeed.

Yesterday, I argued that Mayor Fenty should focus on quality of life and safety issues at the schools first. I still think that to be the best course, or at least the course most likely to generate immediate, visible change in the neighborhoods. If Fenty can couple that with drastic changes in the teacher corps, there is hope for DC.

With the appointment of a new Chancellor and a radical change in DC school governance, there is always great hope. The problem is that bureaucracies become calcified and interested in their own goals and agendas. Fenty and Rhee have a huge task ahead of them and they will no doubt be in the news a lot.

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