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Rhee: More Principals Facing the Ax

About a third of D.C.'s school principal corps has turned over on Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's 17-month watch, through firings, resignations and retirements. She's replaced at least three since the beginning of the school year, and has put out the word that she is not done.

Her draft "action plan," which she is scheduled to discuss with the D.C. Council tomorrow, says that while there has been improvement, "DCPS still lacks a critical mass of leaders with instructional expertise and/or a proven track record of success in turning around low-performing schools."

The plan calls for intensifying what had already been touted by Rhee as a vigorous national recruiting effort. The goal is to provide seven "high-quality principal candidates" for every future vacancy and three qualified prospects "pre-approved by the Chancellor before they even meet with the school community panels that screen potential principals. Rhee also wants to open a "School Leadership Academy" that will nurture new principals and develop administrators with the potential to become school leaders.

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  November 19, 2008; 12:37 PM ET
Categories:  Education  
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Rhee is quite delusional if she thinks she's going to attract "top-shelf" principal candidates to the current low-morale school system. A coach is only as good as his/her team. She has to build from the bottom up (i.e., support for teachers, training, etc.). It doesn't help that she espouses a leadership style where "collaboration and cooperation" are overrated.

Posted by: B4Real1 | November 19, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

If only such rigorous rules were in place before Mayor Fenty basically appointed Rhee as Chancellor. Has any team or organization ever done markedly better after a midstream firing? So far, that is about all Rhee seems to be able to do. Can someone tell me what she and Fenty do between the end of June and early September? Do they actually vet their administrative hires? So far the strategy it seems to be "Fire, ready...set...aim!"

And one more point. Fenty is trying to get Obama to take a look at DC Public Schools. Did you know that Fenty sends his kids to a private school? I did not vote for Obama to Chair the DC School Board. Fenty should have to fix this mess himself.

Posted by: gtaylor301 | November 19, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Finally - someone is taking action to bring the District teaching corp into the 21st century! People defending the current system should be ashamed of themselves; every day they spend arguing that we need to protect the rights of the people who aren't qualified to educate our children is another day that those children are falling behind the rest of the country and the world. If people want to protect the good teachers (which they should), they need to come up with a radical idea to get rid of the bad

Posted by: tparchme | November 19, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

If there were any doubts before, there should be great clarity that DCPS is "stuck on stupid" Principals whose school were making AYP were not re-appointed. Now the new army of believers that were hired are getting fired by the month. The best in terms of experience were let go and the new inexperienced NLNS are getting fired. Who is left? Who wants to re-locate to DC? Seven candidates for every one vacancy? Who are we kidding? This is coming from a person who is clueless when it comes to knowing what administrators do on a daily basis. She taught for three years, has never been a school administrator and was a poor manager when she was at ST. Hope. Read the articles on the turn-over. Principals and teachers left due to the bullying tactics of Rhee and Kevin Johnson. She just doesn't have the skills needed to run a school system.

Posted by: candycane1 | November 19, 2008 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I hope the new principals get a big fat signing bonus like Rhee got before they commit to working in a DC school. A housing allowance might be nice too. Unless they come from Manhattan, San Francisco or Boston, they might be discouraged by the high housing prices, knowing they could get fired at the drop of a hat - especially if one of their disgruntled teachers goes to the press with a problem principals are afraid to report because it might make them look as if they can't control an uncontrollable school.

I hope the prospective principals do a little googling and read some recent Washington Post articles to get a real feel for the problems here. If they just listen to Rhee and the national press, they'll erroneously think they're walking into a grand educational opportunity - A chance to shine and make their reputation.

I hope they talk to some current principals who are candid enough to acknowledge their regret for falling that false promise.

Posted by: efavorite | November 19, 2008 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Candycane1, I really enjoy reading your posts. You are 100% correct and I'll extend it a little further: she is as good as the one who chose her!

To be perfectly blunt rhee must really be possessed by the desire to fire people because that's all she seems to do. It is a shame!!

Posted by: southyrndiva | November 19, 2008 8:14 PM | Report abuse

No one really knows how hard it is for DCPS but the people who work in the schools. Rhee has done nothing but destroy our schools with her poor management skills. DC council member were right when they questioned her a few weeks ago and told her how non effective she is at running our school system. Well what do we expect since she got her "power" from our mayor. (who by the way has too much power). The city council better step up and oversee what is going on. What we do today is effecting our youth tomorrow. Rhee and Fenty's goals are to rid our city of public schools and increase charter schools. I, too, agree with candycane. Wake up DC residents. Rhee did an awful job in NY and now she's doing the same here in DC. These new teachers don't plan to stay and have no vested interest in our children and their future. HUMMM, I wonder if Rhee has a vested interest?

Posted by: stacylm2 | November 19, 2008 11:49 PM | Report abuse

At Shepherd, we had a panel of principal candidates presented last spring. Here are the results of the "vigorous national campaign" gleaned from conversations that I have had with 3 of the parent representatives, and Ms. Rhee's explanation to the Shepherd community months later. The 5 candidates for the principal position included 3 current DCPS administrators (1 an interim principal, and 2 assistant principals); 1 resident of the local area who was appointed to the position, and did not have prior elementary school administrative experience; and a fifth candidate who lived locally. One parent rep on the panel described the candidate pool as "shallow."

A major problem with the process at Shepherd occurred because we had been repeatedly told by several DCPS officials that every panel received its first or second choice candidate, and the schools were always very happy. In this case, because the candidate pool was so shallow, the same candidates were sent to multiple schools. Two of the current DCPS employees were ranked first and second by our panel. These same individuals were each ranked high by at least one other school. Rhee then gave the panelists the choice of which school assignment they preferred (a logical way to resolve the assignment). She told Shepherd this in October, after she had appointed a lower ranked candidate. No one knew why when the appointment was made in June.

So, if last year's candidates are any measure of who Rhee is able to attract, she attracts about 1.25 candidates for each open position (4 of the 5 panelists received appointments), all candidates live locally, most are internal to DCPS, and few if any have prior experience at the job they are applying for. By the way, in October, the next principal that Rhee appointed to Shepherd after firing the one that Rhee had just appointed in July, also does not have prior experience as an elementary school principal. And this newest principal announced at last night's PTA meeting that she'll be out for 3 to 4 weeks in March/April on maternity leave. So for Shepherd, the final count is 4 principals and interims in the 2007-08 school year, and at least 2 principals and 1 interim in 2008-09 (it's still early in the year for us). I think the mainstream press that believes Rhee when she says folks are coming from all over the country to work for her needs to do a little more fact checking.

Posted by: ShepherdParentof2redheads | November 20, 2008 5:49 AM | Report abuse

Shepherdparentoftworedheads: You can count on about four fingers the number of "New Army of Believers" that resulted from a national search. If they were not already NLNS in-house just waiting, they simply crossed the DC line. That's how far the national search went. The recruiting effort was just that! The panels were a sham too. That was just to satisfy saying that the "process" of hiring principals involving LSRT's and personnel committees was used. They put who they wanted or who they could find. Dictators are not inclusive!

Posted by: candycane1 | November 20, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

CandyCane and ShepardParent - I hope you can verify your stories and I hope you go to Turque with them or he comes to you.

If factual, these are the kinds of things that need to be reported, to counteract unverified statements, such as one made in the November "Atlantic" story on Rhee: "'People are coming from across the country to work for her,' says Andrew Rotherham, the co-director of Education Sector, a Washington think tank. 'It’s the thing to do.'”

Posted by: efavorite | November 20, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Here's another quote from the November Atlantic article:

"And while [Rhee] pays lip service to the realities of urban poverty outside school walls, she dismisses the impact that poverty and violence might have on achievement. “As a teacher in this system, you have to be willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring your children are successful despite obstacles,” she told me. “You can’t say, ‘My students didn’t get any breakfast today,’ or ‘No one put them to bed last night,’ or ‘Their electricity got cut off in the house, so they couldn’t do their homework.’”

It sure sounds like parents are off the hook. I wonder if principals will be penalized if teachers can't perform adequately under this system -- or perhaps it should be called a mindset.

In the notable-by-its absence category, there's no mention in the article of Rhee's unsubstantiated but oft quoted miraculous success raising student achievement scores when she was a teacher in inner city Baltimore. This is good. I wonder if it's missing because Rhee didn't make that claim this time, or because The Atlantic decided not to print it.

Posted by: efavorite | November 20, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

It is interesting what Ms. Rhee said about ensuring success despite obstacles. I've seen those quotes before as well and I find it rather ironic that she is now suggesting a "Parent Academy" to help parents work with us to ensure the success of their children. Unfortunately this is being handled with the same arrogance and heavy-handedness as we have seen with so many other things in this system. A kind of do-it-or-else approach. Instead of going into the communities and educating the families in each community (because there is not one school in our system that doesn't need some degree of parental development - not one)about the statistics showing the correlation between parental involvement and student success, the parents have first been dismissed as irrelevant and then condescended to by an announcement of an academy where they will be taught to be parents. If that last line seems overly harsh I think taking a walk in any community where this outreach is supposed to have the greatest effect would show this statement to be rather accurate. There is a way to involve people that just does not seem to be happening on any front - principal selection, school closings, teacher contracts. We are told what we will get, what we will do and to either take it or leave it. Since this approach has so far not been so successful (see Hart, Shephard, Nalle, Anacostia, fill in your own selection here)you would think a different approach would be attempted. Or is this a living demonstration of Einstein's definition of insanity?

Posted by: adcteacher1 | November 20, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

The DCPS track record for 40 years has been an absolute disgrace. Rhee is the first person to move it in the right direction. Sure some things have gone wrong, but that happens in every school system, even the very best. Rhee has gotten the schools repaired, opened on time, text books in every child's hands on opening day. And she has raised test scores. Stop whining and support her. You might not see another leader with her skills at DCPS in your lifetime.

Posted by: jy151310 | November 20, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

jy151310 - don't kid yourself, or believe everything you read in the papers or hear from the Chancellor. All students did not receive their books on time. Some TEACHERS didn't receive their books on time and still haven't received them -- and are told by their principals that it's just too bad - no excuses for not effectively teaching their students.

And there's no evidence that "she" has raised test scores - those went up the first year she came, strongly suggesting it was the result from the previous regime.

Posted by: efavorite | November 20, 2008 9:24 PM | Report abuse

"Rhee has gotten the schools repaired, opened on time, text books in every child's hands on opening day. And she has raised test scores."

Since the details never seem to come out in the press, let me provide some from my vantage point: our school's list of 100+ work orders was frozen after less than 25% were completed, we were still awaiting textbooks (for a tested grade and course) in October, and we are still awaiting teacher's editions.

While she is famous for returning all emails, I feel that among DCPS staff, an aura of untouchability surrounds her: take her up on her frequent public offers to contact her if you need something means going over several people's heads and thus risking your job in doing so. (Anyone else get this impression?)

And just to clarify, Rhee has not raised test scores *yet.* The rule of thumb in education is 3 years to see results, so those gains last year were, in all statistical likelihood, the result of program implementations that preceded her employment.

I don't mind if you disagree with me. All I ask is that you base your opinion on as much of the truth as possible -- which the Post has not been aggressive in pursuing. It maintains a hands-off policy where Rhee is concerned, just like with Fenty, and I'm shocked at how many stories they could be following up on with regard to DCPS schools but choose not to.

Posted by: kelly5612 | November 21, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I was a teacher who very much supported Ms. Rhee when she came into this system and felt that she understood the needs of our system. However, it has been frustrating as a teacher in this system to watch as the press has simply accepted every statement she has made as gospel truth. The books in every hand is one such statement and the statement about improvement on tests is another. I know of one school in the NE that supposedly made a 70% jump in CAS scores in one year. If you look at the results not a single child scored below proficient. That means that this school does not have a single child in the basic or below basic category. What are the odds of that?

The transparency isn't there and therefor all of us - students, parents, teachers, taxpayers - need the news organizations to do their job and investigate the claims; to report on the situation, compare claims to actual results (to actually investigate some of the results)and to allow the public to make a fairly reasonable assessment from the information. We cannot do this if what we are given, on a pretty consistent basis, are articles on Ms. Rhee in which the same claims are made over and over again as well as editorial comment in which Ms. Rhee is presented as the savior of the system who must be allowed to complete her mission.

If one were to compile all the articles currently written on DCPS since Ms. Rhee's start the same names tend to appear over and over - Rhee, Parker, Henderson, Berkey, Sylvia, DC CHIC (now Migdon), a few other blogs, Fenty and Gray. You would think there are three teachers in our system of 4000. Hands raised at a back to school conference or several comments on one blog by the same seven people are taken as an accurate reflection of the entire DCPS teaching staff. How many reporters have actually traveled to the schools in the SE? How many have actually talked to more than a handful of teachers? And, especially, how many have actually investigated the claims made by Ms. Rhee and her administration beyond a follow-up call?

All of us need the fourth estate to do its job.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | November 21, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

rhee is trying to follow Dr. Janey's plan and messing that up, all after a member of fenty's administration, the deputy mayor of education, plagarized the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools strategic plan and got caught. How is that school improvement? Seventy percent test scores with no child scoring below proficient is a statistical deviance, that's for sure and doesn't sound like genuine school progress. That should definitely be looked into. adcteacher1, but if anything was altered, it's certainly long gone now. And if cheating went on, bonuses and laptops the taxpayers paid for in one way or the other need to be given back.

It is interesting how rhee emerges as savior of DCPS. Who will save DCPS from her? I hope we never do see an educator with her level of skills promoted to this level again. Kelly5612 hit it on the head: rhee is ms. untouchable. She fires other people for "not getting the job done," "not being the right fit ..." Was she brought here to bring improvement to the schools or on some other mission? Reporters need to go into these schools, let the cameras roll and just stand. I bet they won't catch rhee in any one of them unless there will be a positive publicity stunt involved for her or her boss, her one boss the mayor who has bullied everyone by telling them they better not tell her no. By her own admission he hasn't told her no yet. Well, maybe he should and then we could see real progress. Maybe he should look for someone who is up to the job.

Posted by: southyrndiva | November 22, 2008 4:25 AM | Report abuse

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