Good-bye Rhee. Hello, brave new chancellor
There was never any chance that Vincent Gray would reappoint Michelle A. Rhee as D.C. schools chancellor. Too many of the people who voted for him wanted a new start. Unfortunately for whomever replaces Rhee, many of the people who did not vote for Gray will be skeptical that any new chancellor can match Rhee's blend of determination and daring.
Rhee alienated many teachers and administrators in the D.C. schools, and in her rush for change produced many decisions -- particularly in the appointment of principals -- that she soon regretted. But those D.C. residents who had long ago given up hope of any relief from the apathy and inertia that has long held back the city schools saw her as a big improvement, even when she stumbled.
That means Gray has to come up with a replacement who is both experienced handling the politics of big city school districts, which Rhee was not, and willing to offend significant power brokers in making improvements, which few urban school leaders ever do.
I talked to Gray last week about his requirements for a new superintendent. He did not give many clues about who might get the job. But he emphasized the need for someone who could bring all important interests together in moving forward. That says to me he wants someone who already has experience in a similar job.
My picks for the next D.C. schools chancellor (if they keep that title, which some feel is too grand) include former New York and Miami school chief Rudy Crew and former D.C. and now Philadelphia school chief Arlene Ackerman. They are all African American leaders of rare wit and intelligence, with lots of experience making change in big cities.
Gray, a D.C. sports fan all his life, may be tempted to look for the school superintendent equivalent of Joe Gibbs, somebody who has been a talented number two leader in a big district, or the superintendent of a smaller district, but has the personal presence and smarts to do well here. Gray knows this will probably be his most important decision as mayor. I expect he will take his time so that he can talk to each candidate and find the one closest to his values.
The Washington Post Outlook section on Sunday inadvertently published a list of possible Rhee replacements, the signers of "A Manifesto" for urban school reform. The 16 signers, which included Rhee and Ackerman, are all reformers, as Gray is. Their manifesto was pretty limp, as such group statements usually are, but it said things that the new mayor believes in. He and Rhee are actually closer in philosophy on how to turn schools around than most people realize.
Gray has been holding regular Saturday youth hearings to gather thoughts from D.C. students about what they want done to make the city better. Like Rhee, he is focused on making school better for students, not just adults.
He has the potential to take a radical step, like appointing his long-time adviser and friend Josh Kern, co-founder of the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School, as D.C. chancellor. Gray spoke warmly of Kern in our talk last week.
Putting a charter school leader in charge would shake up some people in the school system who prefer the status quo, and that is one thing Gray clearly wants to do. I don't think he will go so far as to appoint someone as inexperienced in big city school politics as Kern, but the person Gray picks may be someone hardly anyone in the city knows. I wouldn't be surprised if we were all surprised.
Tweet Give us Your Take: What's next for Michelle Rhee? Who do you think should replace her as interim chancellor? How do you feel about Rhee's departure? Use #Rhee to discuss on Twitter and we'll post the best responses on our site.
Washington Post editors
| October 12, 2010; 9:34 PM ET
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