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Everything on the table at Smothers Elementary

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was table-hopping Wednesday evening, not at a downtown soiree but the cafeteria of Smothers Elementary school in Northeast, where she held the first of her evening "office hours." About two-dozen parents and other stakeholders signed up and took a number to wait for a one-on-one with the schools leader.

Flanked by a member of her "critical response team" and spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway--using a watch to track the five-minute time limit that was honored more in the breach--Rhee alternated among three tables to listen to the concerns.

Two mothers with children at Smothers shared their frustrations about getting the proper special education services. Darlene Williams, who has a son in the 11th grade at H.D. Woodson High School, told Rhee that poor lighting had made the security situation outside the school intolerable, and that it had been the scene of "two or three" carjackings. Rhee's staff promised everyone they would follow up within a week.

Others came to tell Rhee that they were heartened by the changes they'd seen at the Ward 7 school. Judith Moore, who sent four children to Smothers ahead of her nine-year old daughter, said the learning environment was vastly improved under new principal Shannon Feinblatt.

"From the first day this was a different building," said Moore, who is running for the school's 2010 PTA presidency.

One mother said she wished the opportunity had been more widely promoted, and that she only found out about it because she happened to see a flier at Smothers. Rhee's next office hours are Jan. 14 at Raymond Education Campus, 915 Spring Rd. NW in Ward 4. They will run from 6 to 8 pm.

Bill Turque

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By Bill Turque  |  December 10, 2009; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Bill Turque,Education , Education  
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Before the Rhee-haters hop on this board, let me just say that I was a DCPS parent for many years, through many superintendents. They never, ever allowed this kind of access and dialogue. Never.She is not perfect, but I give her credit for going out there and taking the heat and not hiding in her office like previous school heads in DC.

I emailed Janey once to tell him that the school calendar that he and the WTU were proposing was illegal under the DC regulations (far too many half days counted as "full instructional days")and he never even bothered to respond. After the Post got wind of it, he had to back down.

If you ask many parents about Rhee (and most posters on this board are NOT DCPS parents) they will tell you that her responsiveness,whether by email, phone, or these types of forums, are a breath of fresh air in DCPS.

Posted by: trace1 | December 10, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Sorry (trace1) i'm an ex-DCPS parent... I have emailed/called her countless times regarding the closing of my daughters school - primarily the option I was given afterwards... no response. Thankfully my child is no longer in DCPS. Hopefully most dont have the same experience. On the bright side, i'm glad she didn't respond, as my child is in a better place.

Posted by: missboo | December 10, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

If all that matters is you get face time with Ms. Rhee, and that makes you feel better, than by all means praise these one-on-one sessions. But maybe you should ask the parents at Hardy how well Ms. Rhee responds to parents - they tried several times to have meetings with her about the future of Hardy and each time a date was set Ms. Rhee canceled on the day of the meeting. Yet, she managed to have meetings with Key elementary parents and other Georgetown parents (who don't have kids currently attending Hardy) during that same period. When Ms. Rhee did send her emissary, Abigail Smith, Ms. Smith lied to the families about the future of Hardym telling them that no changes were planned for Hardy's administration. During the meeting on Friday Ms. Rhee told the parents that she felt it was better to lie to them through Ms. Smith so that later Ms. Rhee could tell them the truth "in a meeting like this".

Dialogue? There is no dialogue. Dialogue implies that the conversation is two-way, that there is an exchange of ideas. There is no exchange with Ms. Rhee. If she feels that what you are asking for is something she wants to follow through on than she does so, but if what you are suggesting differs from what she wants - retaining the principal of your school, for instance - than forget it. Ms. Rhee has a trust problem that is entirely of her own making.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | December 10, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse


Where are your students going to school now?

Posted by: aby1 | December 10, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

To Bill Turque,

I hope WaPo isn't pressuring to you to be as dishonest about Michelle Rhee as they are.

Posted by: aby1 | December 10, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Casting everyone who raises a criticism of Rhee as a Rhee-hater is an easy way of dismissing legitimate concerns.

Whether someone is a parent DCPS employee or DC resident we all have a right to ask questions and raise concerns.

Just because Janey was very bad at responding to constituent concerns, it does not mean we should fall for this set up either. A 5 minute meeting is a dog and pony show. It is a feel good measure.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | December 10, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse


I love it when people criticize Rhee but also admit that there have been some changes for the better. However, when people can only do the former, they show their true colors.

It is especially infuriating when all of the "haters" (yes, they are) have no kids in DCPS. What is the motivation there? To save teacher jobs at all costs? To smite her because she is Asian? I mean, there are people who live in Maryland who malign her on this board all the time. What is that about? Honestly, I don't have an opinion on the PG County Superintendent --I don't have kids there, don't work in the system, why would I think I have anything relevant to say? But that doesn't stop people when it comes to Rhee. Makes me think there's another agenda.

Posted by: trace1 | December 11, 2009 6:15 AM | Report abuse

" I mean, there are people who live in Maryland who malign her on this board all the time. What is that about?"
1. Mrs Rhee lied on her resume.
2. The media present education issues as if there are reformers (like Mrs. Rhee) and those against them.

Go look at the NAEP Math scores that were repackaged this week.
in 8th grade, the lower income students stayed the same from 2007 to 2009.
The 4th grade scores show that White students improved 8 points from 07 to 09, and African American scores went up by only 4 points. (
So the two groups Mrs. Rhee's reform efforts are targeted towards didn't do so well.
Yet she call these results "significant."

Then you reduce your line of attack to blaming it on racism.

By your standards, I (and probably you) should say nothing about Uganda's desire to punish homosexuals or human rights in China because I neither gay nor Chinese.

Posted by: edlharris | December 11, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse


Thank you for admitting that you know nothing about being a teacher in DCPS, being an administrator in DCPS, being a student in DCPS, or being the parent of a student in DCPS. In fact, you don't live in DC, but are hopping mad about the media's portrayal of Rhee and her resume so you are compelled to negatively comment on her several times a day. And you would do exactly the same thing if she were African American.


Posted by: trace1 | December 11, 2009 7:06 AM | Report abuse

Race card from trace1.

Posted by: edlharris | December 11, 2009 8:13 AM | Report abuse

This access is a great start, but what does Rhee do with all this input? Is it all for show or is there going to be follow-through? And how can she concentrate if she is answering each and every email? And interesting that she refuses to meet with parents at schools like Hardy and Oyster before removing principals. Also, did Rhee not know about the carjackings at this high school? Yikes!

Posted by: noodles_20009 | December 11, 2009 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Trace1 - It does seem like you and some other commenters are trying to quiet people who according to your standards are not properly qualified to comment. I've been suspected of being a grassroots organizer or union affiliated because of my persistent criticism of the Rhee administration. I'm not, but so what if I were? Many people provide no personal information at all and no one is obliged to. Edlharris makes a good point about readers’ rights to comment on any subject they find interesting.

Some posters, including me and Ed, will provide links to factual information. This is also optional, but I feel is useful for those interested in more than anonymous opinions.

Posted by: efavorite | December 11, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I am one of lucky ones and I know that there are others who are with me...but I never had a problem in getting and recieving a meeting with Janey, Vance, Becton, Ackerman and now Rhee. I am not bragging but stating a fact...when I call I get through without any hesitation. My inquiries are answered and my concerns are addressed. Have I disagreed with all of those stated above...emphatically YES!!!But I have to been able to get to the point and have a meaningful dialogue with those who occupied that position.

My motto: Fight yes, frustated to quit, never.

If you want to play the race is one for you...the history of leadership at the helm of DCPS has been we have an asian but her deputy is african-american then it doesn't hurt to know that the asian is engaged to an african-american at the helm... So my point is as long as the percentage point reflects predominantly african-americans in the school system...then let the solidarity continue.

I just think when the solidarity factor is evolving into a separate but erase and not equal agenda. Again it is all in the perception and percentage turn the perception is that one group wants the others out but the percentage points are showing that there is not enough of one group to push the other group out.

Hogwash, about that they're [diversity] was the Y2K eposidic events and the devastation we were going to endure. Funny we are days away from completing our first official decade of the millenium. And we are still marking and making the first in regards to achievements.

Is it that newsworthy that Rhee is holding meetings on other's people turf? Did they not do that with Janey, Vance, Ackerman, Becton and whom-so-ever as they were called public round-table discussions?

DCPS is only doing what it is predestined to do and that is "if Moses doesn't come to the mountain" moreso if the table of people don't come to Rhee...then bring Rhee to the table.

Kinda funny that the simpliest of things, still pleases must be the holidays!!!

Posted by: PowerandPride | December 11, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Of course Edharris has the"right" to comment on whatever he wants to comment on.

And readers have the right to appropriately weight the comments of someone who has never stepped foot into a DCPS classroom, whether as a teacher, child, administrator or parent.

Posted by: trace1 | December 11, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Thank you efavorite,
it was like being in middle school or teaching middle school again.

And trace1, I mainly post links to data (something Mrs. Rhee is into).
And in your come back to efavorite, you forgot to mention the racist angle.
(I found those who dwell alot on race have either experienced it or practiced it)

Posted by: edlharris | December 11, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

FYI, I am a DCPS parent so according to your standards I am qualified to make comments.

I did have a difficulty accessing Janey. With Rhee, I have attended meetings, met with her one on one and e-mailed her. Let's just say my experience was worse than being ignored in the first place.

This is why I said it was for show. So much of what Rhee does is on crafting an image of her and her supposed accomplishments. I realize that Rhee does listen to some people but does so only when it fits her agenda.

I do want to go back to your point about how some things have improved under Rhee but those critical of her never talk about it. I think that there have been some improvements under Rhee. However, many of her decisions and policies have been extremely alienating and have cause more problems at the local school level.

I do not feel the need to talk about her small accomplishements in the face of all of the damage she is creating.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | December 11, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm a DCPS parent, so is it ok if I post?

Rhee is very responsive. She returns email immediately and is a master of the town hall format of public speaking. (Ok, I thought she was a master until I heard the Hardy meeting. I kind of thought she got eaten for lunch, but I digress...)

I thought Rhee was dazzling the first year. I desperately want DCPS to change for the better. I just don't think we have the right person at the helm.

I'm not a "Rhee-hater." I don't hate her as an individual, but I hate what she's doing to the school my children attend. I hate how she treats the principal and the teacher. I hate how she lies. I hate that while Rhee responds immediately to email, her staff at 825 is still staggeringly incompetent. Nothing gets done, same as always. I hate that her actions hurt my children. I hate the drama she brings. But truly, I don't hate Michelle Rhee.

What I truly resent is that if I were to say all this in a public forum and it were linked to my child's school, I would make life even more miserable for our principal.

Finally, I wish I had a direct line to the Washington Post editorial board. I'd love have have my views published in the Post. Again, I have to stifle my voice, to protect the hard-working administrators and teachers at our school.

My kids deserve better than Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | December 11, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

For the record, Rhee has cancelled two visits to Dunbar HS within the last two weeks. I guess she is too busy planning for her office visits.

As far as her “black” deputy, Ms. Henderson, a former recruiter for TFA she is as qualified as her “boss.”
She has probably finished her Master’s by now. I wonder who paid for her degree. DC has two unqualified individuals at the top and both working for a mayor who is even less qualified for the job. They all have one thing in common--they will lie at the drop of a hat.


Posted by: dccounselor72 | December 11, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

A lie is only as good as the one who believes it...those who are good detecting liars are pretty much at the expert level themselves. Is this the school system or the Mafia...people want to be contacted secretly and have meetings behind closed doors with the editorial board of the Washington Post... Gee-whiz no wonder sometimes at kids public school graduations the parents are more ecstatic than the it because they survived and was not thrown in the river because being outspoken about education is life-ending. I have heard about the fictious Harpers Valley PTA...but I am telling you DCPS Hoodlum or Hoodwinked PTA's deserves headlines. The cast of characters who hate Rhee are worthy OSCAR nominations.

Posted by: PowerandPride | December 11, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

In response to some of the early comments, I have to say that as much crap as Rhee has put DCPS through, I give her an incredible amount of credit for taking responsibility for it. She's easy to access and quick to respond. The lines of communication are open even if it's not what you want to hear.

I came to teach in DCPS after working in two other, much smaller school districts. And I met personally with Rhee after a month of service here. I never had the opportunity to meet with any of my other superintendents.

Posted by: TheReflectiveEducator | December 11, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

reflective educator - are you suggesting that Rhee's willingness to meet with teachers upon request is a form of taking responsibility for the crap she's putting DCPS through?

How is that? For instance, in your meeting with her, did she take specific responsibility for something. Of course you don't have to answer, but I'm curious about how you make the connection between her meeting with teachers and taking responsibility.

Posted by: efavorite | December 12, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

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