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Rhee's staying power

If Mayor Adrian M. Fenty loses the Sept. 14 primary and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee resigns--as she has hinted recently--she's still likely to leave town as the District's longest serving schools leader of the last 20 years. She reached the three-year mark last month, surpassing her predecessor, Clifford Janey, who served two years and nine months (Sept. 2004 to June 2007). A modest post-election transition period should get her past Paul Vance, who lasted three years and five months (July 2000 to December 2003).

That leaves only Franklin Smith, whose five years and four months (July 1991 to Nov. 1996) is likely out of reach unless Fenty wins a second term or she and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray reconcile their differences.

Education experts say constant churning at the top is one reason many urban school systems fail to sustain reform efforts. A 2009 study by the Council of the Great City Schools found that while the average tenure for urban school chiefs is rising--from 2.3 years in 1999 to the current 3.5 years--it is still not much time to get a turnaround program up and running.

Here's a list of District leaders over the last 34 years, acting heads included:

Vincent Reed (March 1976 to December 1980)

James T. Guines (acting, Jan. -June 1981)

Floretta D. McKenzie (July 1981 to May 1988)

Andrew E. Jenkins, III (June 1988 to Nov. 1990)

William Brown (acting, Dec. 1990 to June 1991)

Franklin Smith (July 1991 to Nov. 1996)

Julius W. Becton (Nov. 1996 to April 1998)

Arlene Ackerman (May 1998 to July 2000)

Paul Vance (July 2000 to Dec. 2003)

Elfreda Massie (acting, Jan-April 2004)

Robert Rice (acting, April-Sept. 2004)

Clifford Janey (Sept. 2004 to June 2007)

Michelle Rhee June 2007 - ???

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By Bill Turque  |  July 20, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
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There was no one like Dr. Dukes McKenzie...gray suit and all. Inside joke for those understand.

Posted by: PowerandPride | July 20, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee has staying power because she has big money behind her. If it weren't for that, she would have been gone by now.

Posted by: jlp19 | July 20, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Good - if she leaves this fall she can brag she was the longest serving DC school leader in the last twenty years.

She can even her stay was unprecedented and I won't bother her.

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Aha! I have dug through the data and found that DCPS had unprecedented gains during the two-year period between September 2003 and September 2005 when DCPS had four superintendents - including two actings. Trust me on this.

This proves that superintendent turnover is beneficial to our students.

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, if you just go by test scores - and Michelle Rhee does - then the data indicate that changes in leadership do not negatively affect student achievement.

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

All the Rhee-haters on this site are so predictable I'm about to stop reading the comments. Have you nothing better to do than criticize the chancellor on every single article? Do you even live in DC? Where are all the parents I talk to who, like me, have kids in DCPS, support this chancellor, and will vote to re-elect Fenty because of her? Better things to do than post comments on this website at every turn, I guess.

Posted by: bevita | July 20, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

bevita wrote: "Where are all the parents I talk to who, like me, have kids in DCPS, support this chancellor, and will vote to re-elect Fenty because of her?"

That's a good question: where are they????

Posted by: thebandit | July 20, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Hello bevita, You're right - we don't hear from many Rhee supporters. I'd be interested to know what exactly people like you think about what the Chancellor has done in the schools.

Sounds like you've been spending a lot of time reading comments on "every single article."

I'm surprised you haven't spoken up before now, but now that you have, please give us some details about why you and your friends are so happy with the chancellor.

Also, when you read some of the facts in the articles and in the comments section that don't support Rhee's claims, what effect does it have on you?

Thanks for joining the discussion.

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

OK, Bevita. I'm a DCPS parent of 8 years, two kids, began as a Rhee supporter and now have a Gray sign out front. Ward 3. It is disgusting that she has rid the system of principals and teachers without simple explanation (not to the communities, not to the professionals). She's based her whole Chancellorship (if that's the word) on test data, and now that it's clear her lack of "inside-the-classroom" interest/experience has kids set back to where they were about to hit their stride under Janey, it's so quiet out there you could hear a muzzle being put on --even the WaPo ed. bd. sidesteps their usual cheering for the usual praise of Kipp and longer school years. So, here's a parent who has seen it all, watched two great principals get sacked --and one of the schools has skidded way off track and we're out for private. Where are the parents? You'll hear them loud and clear when Fenty is kicked out of office this fall.

Posted by: modern1 | July 20, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

I would also like to know which ward Bevita lives in, as it seems that different parents from different wards seem to be having different experiences with Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: thebandit | July 20, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Interesting... so far, we have one parent who supports reform (bevita) and one parent who is againt reform (modern1) It is also interesting that modern 1 is from Ward 3, since that is a ward that Fenty is projected to win. I will be the first to admit that these discussion boards seem to ***primarily*** consist of DCPS employees or former employees (I'm one myself), so it is interesting to hear from the parents here. Any other parents want to chime in on this discussion?

Posted by: thebandit | July 20, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

careful, bandit - modern1 is against Rhee - that doesn't mean modern1 is against reform, just against "Rhee-form."

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, that's what I meant to say, efavorite. Sorry. Anyways, do any more parents want to chime in?

Posted by: thebandit | July 21, 2010 1:16 AM | Report abuse

As a parent of two children in DCPS, and coincidentally one who introduced his 12 -year-old son (attending Hardy Middle School) to Bill Turque at the Sangamore Road Safeway (Bethesda) on Sunday afternoon... I would love to hear his uncensored reaction to this interview of Mayor Adrian Fenty by Washington Post Editor Jo-Ann Armao this Tuesday.

It can be viewed at the following web address:

Even though I have posted many comments that have been critical of Mr. Turque's reporting on numerous topics, and I have felt a responsibility to fill in where I have believed he has not provided a complete or accurate accounting, it is my opinion that he has preformed the role of score keeper for a news outlet that has demonstrated remarkable partiality.

This interview with Jo-Ann Armao is so contrived and rehearsed that it cannot under any circumstances be considered anything other than the most desperate and deliberate attempt to support instead of report. This is truly sad.

Mr. Fenty's repeated use of the phrase, "and things of this nature", reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger, except that "the Govern-ator" usually understands the context, and the mayor of DC does not. It is baffling to me how intelligent people defend and support such and vacuous pretender.

Posted by: AGAAIA | July 21, 2010 3:09 AM | Report abuse


1. Mr. Turque has performed the valuable role of score keeper for a news outlet that has demonstrated remarkable partiality.

2. Mr. Fenty's repeated use of the phrase, "and things of this nature", reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger, except that "the Govern-ator" usually understands the context, and the mayor of DC does not. It is baffling to me how intelligent people defend and support such a vacuous pretender.

Posted by: AGAAIA | July 21, 2010 3:28 AM | Report abuse

Here's the tally now:

One parent FOR Fenty and RHEE-form (Bevita)

Two parents against: (AGAAIA and modern 1)

Well, bevita, it looks like your question of "where are the parents" is being answered, although it doesn't appear that they share your opinion, at least not so far. Any other parents want to chime in whether or not you're for or against Fenty and school RHEE-form? Also, I think it's a good idea if you state the ward you live in and how many children you have in DCPS... that way we can get a better picture of demographics that are for and against.

Posted by: thebandit | July 21, 2010 3:52 AM | Report abuse

@Power and Pride: I agree with you and if you remember, Alfreda Massie was a moment to exhale and hope because she stepped in and saved the system from losing teachers in December, citing an unecessary move and disruption of instruction. I was hoping that she would stay but completely understood her not wanting to.

Posted by: candycane1 | July 21, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

2 kids in DCPS, 8 years. Title one school, though live in Ward 6.

For the record, very much for reform of DCPS. I don't think Rhee is the one to do it though and I did start out as a supporter.

It's amazing to see how Rhee is bending over backwards to cater to affluent Ward 6 parents. Sadly though, most of the parents at our school are not affluent, therefore the dear Chancellor doesn't care.

We've lost talented teachers and administrators because of Michelle Rhee. Nothing is better in the last three years, including the test scores. The main office is every bit as dysfunctional as it ever was...Now granted, they email you right back and tell you what a "great question" you've presented. Then your question goes unanswered. It's like it's always been, but with blackberries. The climate of fear and the chaos and churn are horrible.

I think Lew and facilities have made improvements though. Maybe he should be Chancellor? He's no less qualified than Rhee, right?

I admit, I had a Fenty yard sign last time. He's lost my vote because of Michelle Rhee. I guess I should get a Gray sign, but what I really want is a "DCPS parents against Michelle Rhee" yard sign. Maybe I should get one of my kids on that as an arts and crafts project...

Finally, I don't think you're going to get huge sampling of parents via the blog comments on the Post. I read the comments, because I find some of the regular commenters here are providing better analysis than the paid Post staff.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | July 21, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

@candycane; Ms. Massie had a future with DCPS only if her financial past wasn't the issue. My top 5 are as follows

1. Reed
2. Dukes-McKenzie
3. Ackerman
4. Janey
5. Rhee

The comparison to longevity is not truly fair considering the governance. The question should be...of the past Superintendents how many would have a chance at longevity under this reform model. Shudder to think if Becton and Rice had to enforce this reform model...horrendous.

Posted by: PowerandPride | July 21, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

@modern1...the two good principals that you speak of...that were sacked. Do you know if they were hired by Rhee or principals that she inherited from previous superintendents? I am saying her firing of principals during the school year are few and far-between but her non-reappointments comes with the job. But I do hear you as well as other unionized employees (HINT). Can anyone say UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES...hush I meant to say ulp.

Posted by: PowerandPride | July 21, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Ok, I just have to share this one. This is from the Marie Reed ES website. (Does anyone know if the former principal was sacked, or did she resign?) The school had an amazing leap in reading test scores in the LEP/NEP population. If it's legit, someone ought to figure out their method and bottle it for the rest of us out here.

Anyway, I thought this was hysterical. I guess this old adage, remember the principal is your "pal" no longer holds true in the dear Chancellor's administration. I'll include the link below. This would be laugh out loud funny, if children weren't involved.

An Introduction and Welcome from Our New Principle

I want to express my gratitude that Chancellor Rhee and the Reed selection committee have given me the opportunity to lead Marie Reed Elementary School towards achievement for every student. Reed has established a reputation for increasing student understanding and exemplifying a professional learning community. I have already had the opportunity to connect with some parents, partners and faculty members during my first few days in the office. I have learned that people really love our school, that our greatest resources are our people (especially students !), and folks are eager to help.

The descriptions of the community energize me because they match well with my own professional background. As a teacher and leader in schools and central office here in DC for nearly 20 years, I pride myself in challenging students to think critically, honoring teachers as creative professionals, and developing systems to ensure a focus on student achievement. After graduating from Georgetown University, I taught in South Africa and at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, DC. I went to serve as assistant Principle at Bell ( now “CHEC”) and principal of Maya Angelou Public Charter School. I served downtown in DCPS for a terrific year, but realized that my passion remains in the school with the students and teachers.

I believe that we can build the foundation for Marie Reed students to earn college scholarships and professional careers starting right now. As a parent, I feel compelled to advocate for every child, knowing they all have immeasurable potential despite any inequities they may face. I have seen my students become teachers, and I’ve seen my teachers become school leaders, so I know what is possible in a community like ours. We are going to see our students make a difference in the world based on the foundation we provide at Marie Reed Elementary School.

Eugene Pinkard, Jr.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | July 21, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

The score now:

One parent FOR Fenty and RHEE-form (Bevita)

Three parents against: (AGAAIA, modern 1, Title1SoccerMom)

Any other parents? BTW thank you to the parents that are posting and disproving the stereotype that "only DCPS employees and former employees" post on these boards.

Posted by: thebandit | July 21, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I am just like Title 1 soccer mom, except I've only been a DCPS parent for 5 years with my two kids. Rhee does indeed SEEM approachable and responsive, but then nothing happens! I've had my share of "Excellent idea!" that then is never implemented. I had much more success getting reform with Janney.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | July 21, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Just to throw this out there: many of us read every education article, along with the comments, but do not submit a comment. I assume this includes many Rhee supporters. You can't judge how successful Rhee is by looking at reader comments. I'm in Ward 3 but by talking and working with people in other Wards I know what people in other parts of the city are thinking. Get out of your comfort zone and talk to people in other neighborhoods. Don't judge Rhee solely by the anonymous comments posted in the reader comment section online (including my own!).

Posted by: vivace751 | July 21, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Vivace751 says, "You can't judge how successful Rhee is by looking at reader comments."

That's correct, Vivace. Opinions and experiences related here are anecdotal at best. What you can get here, assuming people are representing themselves honestly, is what's bugging people and where the energy is. You also come to trust certain commenters, because their insights or inside knowledge prove to be dependable over time.

I recall reading the comments on an article soon after Arne Duncan was named Secretary of the Department of Education. Many were from his hometown in Chicago and some of those were negative, along the lines of “now he’s going to wreck education in the whole country the way he wrecked Chicago.” I neither believed nor disbelieved the criticism at the time. You can read people’s comments, including my own hopeful comments back then (12/08) here:

I figured Duncan must be OK because Obama selected him. (Silly me) Now I know the Chicago commenters were right – because I’ve seen Duncan in operation and I’ve seen the negative results from his tenure as superintendent in Chicago. For instance, see:

I try to provide references, whenever possible, because I want people reading here to have facts and background on which to base their opinions, and in some cases to provided relevant information not available just by reading articles. Others here do it too. It’s been very helpful.

Posted by: efavorite | July 21, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I wonder why with the big news of lousy ES test scores, flight from DCPS HS's, the forced retirement of a talented but "older"teacher from Wilson (and a community up in arms), there is absolutely no DCPS news in the WaPo? Of course I *know* why...but this silence is ridiculous!! Today the Ed. Bd. talks generally about schools and families and cyber-bullying. There's nothing else out there? The latest/today's Current Newspapers has revived the Wilson HS retirement. There should be full-on analysis of what Rhee said when scores went up her first year and what she says now (or doesn't say). Unbelievable. PS Yes, I am FOR reforming the parts of DCPS that require improvement, I am no longer for Rhee's juvenile, mean and just dumb tactics.

Posted by: modern1 | July 21, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse


Arne Duncan was hated by average everyday CPS parents. No one but the union hating newspapers ever had anything good to say about him. His name was almost treated like a curse word.

Posted by: jlp19 | July 21, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

jlp19 -- regarding Chicagoans' view of Duncan - there seems to be a pattern here. Most unfortunate.

Modern1 - be sure to tell everyone you see about what's been happening at Wilson with the best teachers who don't conform to the Rhee mold - and the disparity between Rhee's words then and now. Tell them to pass it on, and on.

soccermom - odd that Rhee is "bending over backwards to cater to affluent Ward 6 parents" but disdaining the affluent Ward 3 voters where Wilson HS is located.

Maybe she's courting the K - 8 crowd and figures that high school activists don't matter.

We shall see.

Posted by: efavorite | July 21, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

This brief overview of past superintendents' tenures is quite revealing, for those who want to view Rhee's performance objectively over the last three years.

Turque's article points out that, at this point, Janey was in office three months shorter than she has been. Yet, Janey implemented a comprehensive curriculum (which Rhee has done nothing to address, modify, or improve upon, unless she did so this year after I left DCPS), drafted a Master Facility Plan for modernizing the school system (a draft from which Lew and Rhee primarily have worked and admitted they would do so), and began addressing the special education instructional issues by implementing inclusion training throughout the system (which Rhee entirely ignored and abandoned up through the end of the 2008-09 school year). Those are merely examples. I am certain that teachers who have been in the District during both tenures can provide additional examples of Janey's comparative contribution to the community in comparison to Rhee's. Most significantly, he accomplished all that he did in less time while having a more burdensome workload. For instance, technology, physical plan development, teaching and learning were all under Janey's supervision. Under Rhee, technology has been integrated into city government, and Lew has taken over the development of the school system's physical plant, all moves that were intended to free Rhee up to tackle the teaching and learning component.

The question remains, what is Michelle Rhee's substantive contribution to the teaching and learning infrastructure? Firing people and hiring partners to run schools are not acceptable answers.We could have hired any technocrat, pay them half the salary we are paying her, and that person could have performed those tasks. What I thought we were getting in Rhee was a superintendent.

Wake up, stakeholders! This woman literally has been robbing the treasury and getting away with it, because she has a big mouth. Unfortunately, the media in this country no longer engage in investigative reporting, but ascribe to the tenets of yellow journalism, Fox News-style, and are more apt to let her sound off in their outlets with outrageous and sometimes defamatory comments about teachers designed to sway public opinion her way and arouse people's emotions. Sadly, her approach has worked with some. The longer she blabs her mouth around the nation and stir up prejudices, the less inclined we, the citizens of the city, seem focused on her glaring deficiencies, her ineffective leadership, her proclivity for cronyism (the likes of which the city has never seen) and her mendacious and abusive management style.

If Ms. Rhee is unable to point to accomplishments at this point that have nothing to do with the foundation laid by Dr. Janey, I think even her most ardent supporters would have to admit that she has been a miserable--and expensive--disappointment.

Posted by: vscribe | July 22, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

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