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Stanford prof says Rhee needed her own base

The torrents of commentary about the fate of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee continue, here, here and here, to cite a few. One particularly cogent piece comes from Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, who blogged in the Harvard Business Review Monday on "Power, Personality and Michelle Rhee."

Pfeffer, not a Rhee-basher, said that her impending departure "drives home two lessons for anyone whose power comes to them through a single, high-placed champion." That, of course, would be outgoing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

While Fenty (D) controlled the school system and wholeheartedly supported Rhee's education agenda, that was no substitute for building her own base of support on the D.C. Council and among community stakeholders, Pfeffer said. He acknowledges that this would have been easier said than done for Rhee, but it might have extended her longevity.

The second lesson, and perhaps most important, is that broader "buy-in" would give the changes Rhee made a better chance of long-term survival. Rhee's skepticism about collaboration and compromise is now well established. But Pfeffer says:

"Sometimes making sure that your change serves others' interests feels --and is--a compromise. Any time spent selling your agenda or navigating the political landscape is time taken away from the urgent work at hand. But if you've read any of the literature on participative decision-making, you know it pays off in the end. While involving people to get their buy-in takes effort, that buy-in ensures quicker and smoother implementation of the final decision. Even more important, it gives the change higher odds of surviving the departure of its sponsors.

"Rhee has earned maverick status through her continual fighting with school unions and stubborn administrative staff, but as a result, not only are many people eager for her departure, they also have no vested interest in sustaining the changes she has managed to put in place."

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By Bill Turque  | September 29, 2010; 10:25 AM ET
Categories:  Michelle Rhee  
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"While involving people to get their buy-in takes effort, that buy-in ensures quicker and smoother implementation of the final decision."

Prof. Pfeffer, you have obviously never set foot in Washington, DC. Local interests don't buy in, they smash and grab.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | September 29, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I hope Prince Georges County is smart enough to try to get her, the kids need it. I have lived in this area for over 18 years and would not dream of sending my kids to DC or PG public schools until someone at the top gets serious. I refuse to compromise on my kids education. I work hard every day to pay for private school just so that I can give my kids a better future, I know there are good teachers in the system and some good schools, but the bad far outweighs the good in both PG and DC. And that to me is why they will make the dumb decision to get rid of her and go back to the "good old barry days" of poor service and no accountability.

Good luck DC. PG you have a chance, take it.

Posted by: xxx1 | September 29, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse


Please stop with the "old Barry days" bull.

PG can have her but you should know that the citizens and politicians of PG will not take her FOOLISHNESS.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | September 29, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

xxx1, I won't even say thanks but no thanks. I've made my home in P.G. County for 37 years, and the last thing the children in this county need is someone like Michelle Rhee.

I do not understand why people have been so eager to buy into the idea that someone like Rhee, whose actual teaching experience was limited to three years, and who furthermore had no previous experience as an administrator of any kind of school system, was qualified to run an urban school system. Her inability or lack of interest in working with the community seems to me to be a huge red flag.

Posted by: sanderling5 | September 29, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse


Please do not wish the nightmare of Michelle Rhee on D.C.’s neighboring county. Have you spoken with any DCPS parents? It would be especially informative to talk with folks from both sides of the discussion. By that, I mean parents who see no progress and parents who perceive some progress has been made.

Here are a few more excerpts from the commentary in Investors Business Daily:

“Fact is, Rhee accomplished relatively little in her tenure as chancellor. D.C. still spends more than $20,000 per pupil per year for poor test scores, violent schools and a graduation rate barely above 50%....In July, Rhee announced she would fire 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor ratings under the new system.

Rhee's story should serve as a reminder to reformers that public opinion is important, and people want to know that proposed reforms are in their interest. Rhee, however, famously said, ‘Collaboration and consensus-building are quite frankly overrated, in my mind.’”

If that quote is correct, that may be the reason Rhee never attempted to build relationships with the constituency that matters most -- DCPS parents –or others stakeholders.

To many of us here in the District, it seems that Rhee simply used this as a career stepping stone. After all, generally, a superintendent of a school system has many years of experience, coupled with a doctorate. Rhee has a total of three years teaching experience. She used Teach for America (TFA) neophytes to fill the positions of the fired teachers. That is a conflict of interest.

She may have turned the DCPS upside down, but she has no plan as to how to turn it rightside-up.

Here is the link to the commentary:

Posted by: sheridaw | September 29, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

School Chancellor is not a brand- oh scholarly marketing-guy from Stanford. DC schools were a total disaster.She had to do some deep cutting. She had to get rid of those who were doing the most complaining- and are still complaining- the most. Fenty understand sthat when it comes to protecting our kids futures sometimes you have to pull of the gloves and just duke it out. Gray will ruin this momentum before it really has a chance to make a really signifcant difference- because he want to be nice to everyone. BS.

Posted by: poppysue85 | September 29, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

"But if you've read any of the literature on participative decision-making, you know it pays off in the end. While involving people to get their buy-in takes effort, that buy-in ensures quicker and smoother implementation of the final decision."

The professor could not be more on target. Problem is neither Fenty nor Rhee had the maturity or experience to appreciate the value of collaboration or the skill to make it happen.

Posted by: rglass23 | September 29, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

People don't like Rhee because she's blunt, and nobody likes being told their school system stinks and the teachers aren't doing their jobs very well.

I'm glad Rhee's not just another egg-sucking politician trying to keep her job. She'll find success elsewhere, hopefully somewhere her blunt approach to fixing an obvious problem will be appreciated.

DC is losing a good employee.

Posted by: peter1313 | September 29, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Ms Rhee has no experience as a teacher or as an administrator. She failed to carry out sustainable reform of the school system and got her boss fired.

Reformers are leaders who through skill, knowledge, experience and leadership carry the entire constituency towards a better path. Due to her immaturity she alienated each and every part of her constituency. Teachers, Principals, Parents (part of them, Administrators as well as the people of DC. As a public servant she looked down up on the public she served. She lacked experience, leadership, educational leadership credentials and administrative experience. She is the Paris Hilton of educational reform.

Posted by: amathur16 | September 29, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Hopefully someone will write something objective about Rhee's tenture because people are either for her or against her - she was either an angel or a hellion.

She fired bad teachers but were they really bad?

If some were how many? A few or most?

What did she replace them with? Good potential teachers or people that will also be out the door in 2 years?

Did she decrease fear for the students? Or are they just as traumatized as ever by gangs, bullying, and peer pressure to shoot up and have sex at age 13?

Posted by: agapn9 | September 29, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

If you want people to have buy-in you have to first show respect.

Someone should have explained to Ms. Rhee the truth of the old saying “you catch more flies with honey...”

As a state director there are certain initiatives that have to be implemented but I have always and will always explain and give options and ask for input, when possible.

Posted by: rlj611 | September 29, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse


Can you do a post on how Mary Levy predicted the pro's and con's of a mayoral takeover in 2004. Can you also do an interview with Ms. Levy and get her thoughts on the state of educational in D.C.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | September 29, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Rhee is lame-duck history. Bill, find something else to fill your column, please.

Posted by: why231 | September 29, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse


I don't live in D.C., but as a resident of PG county I have some knowledge of DCPS because I know quite a few teachers. I know teachers who were hired by DCPS after being fired in PG county because they were unable to get certified. After working one year they were let go by DCPS because they were not certified. It did seem to make any sense to me that DCPS would fire 200 plus teaches just to hire uncertified teaches just to fired them after one year also. I don't think the plan that Rhee implemented was thought out thoroughly.

Posted by: RealityCheck24 | September 29, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Other than firing teachers and fighting with the union, can someone give me specific examples of the "sweeping" changes Rhee implemented? Never has so much been made over someone who has accomplished so little. There are Superintendents in the districts surrounding DC who get so much more out of their teachers and students without all the fanfare. They have large numbers of minority students and teachers too and run laps around the DC. Even PG County with its mostly black student body has a 60+ percent pass rate. And that is with a revolving door of Superintendent as well. For a 43% pass rate in reading and math is Rhee really worth all the media attention? There are other great examples of schools that work in the surrounding districts, perhaps DC should try to replicate what is going well in the places with similar demographics instead of trying to blow up the entire system every few years...seems oddly similar to how Dan Snyder operates. And it's not working very well for the Redskins either.

Posted by: gtaylor301 | September 29, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse


Ms. Rhee was not trying to attract more flies with honey, she was trying to free the DC School System of the existing infestation.

All the DC teachers knew who among their peers were the non-performers, who were the habitually absent, sick lame and lazy ones; they just couldn't do anything about them because of the union and lack of courageous leaders.

While there may have been perfunctory protests at the dismissals of those individuals, the truly caring educators were probably delighted deep down.

I wager that when the Gray machine takes over, they will find all kinds of budgetary and other excuses not to rehire the dismissed deadwood. All the while thanking Ms. Rhee unde their breath. Mark my words.

Posted by: EMIP | September 29, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rhee did a heroic job trying to undo the damage that a bloated education bureaucracy has done to DC schools in past decades. It is sad for the kids that she'll leave, but good news for all those that think that teachers and administrators should be the primary beneficiaries of the education system. Come November we will most likely have a new and politically attuned and subservient administrator with a dime store Ph.D in education who cares about educational quality only to the extent that it does not involve any hard choices. It is truly a phyrric victory for those parents who voted for Grey thinking they would get better eduction for their kids.

Posted by: norgo | September 29, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Very accurate commentary but as several writers noted, DC is not an easy city to build and establish a supportive base in or a group willing to compromise with a forward look - the city council is a perfect example of an inconsistent group of supporters one day at time perhaps. One need only look back critically in evaluating the lack of educational progress in DC schools, the lack of progress with school repairs needed for years, the appropriate credentialing of teachers and aides within the school system, and the overall regular assessments of teachers and administrators within the school system - all inconsistently performed if at all. This writer strongly believes that within the DC population there was a deep resentment that Ms.Rhee, a Korean American - first received the position she held but then came to close schools and fire Black teachers, staff and close the community schools as she did - although justified in most eyes. Between those fired, released, and the union - Michelle Rhee's accomplishments and method of delivery in finally obtaining progress for students and teachers in DC schools, will largely go unappreciated and valued by most Blacks.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | September 29, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, Rhee characterized any opposition as anti-reform. Once that happened, then the more repugnant she became and the more people reacted to her offensive conduct, the more it appeared to outsiders that she was battling against a system that was rejecting improvement.

Add to that the racial dynamic of a changing city and plenty of outside attention, and you can see exactly how harmful and dysfunctional the process has been.

Reform in the Michelle Rhee fashion is best used when whites and money wish to abandon the process. When the voters finally lodge their complaints at the voting booth, then it is characterized as "devastating" for reform. The whites and the money then say I-told-you-so, and announce that substandard schools is really what the black community wants.

It's a pretty ugly game.

Posted by: blasmaic | September 29, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

"...many people eager for her departure, they also have no vested interest in sustaining the changes she has managed to put in place."

The demand for reform is strong; the demand for disrespect of community stakeholders is not. People forget, Mayor Fenty got the ball rolling on education reform when he put the fate of schools in the Mayor's hands. That means a sitting Mayor takes credit for the success or failure of public education in DC. I strongly believe any sane Mayor does not want a DCPS failure on his/her watch.

Posted by: FaroutDC | September 29, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Transformational Leadership through transactional relationships. I have been saying that all along. This just ISN'T Rhee.

This is why she failed.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | September 29, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse


Once again I must set the record for those seeking to justify Ms. Rhee's corrupt and incompetent tenure by denigrating and demeaning the integrity and the character of people you do not know and could not possibly know anything about. Well I am one of those people terminated by Ms. Rhee's vindictive campaign against experienced teachers. And I can tell you that the only time that I missed work was to attend funerals. My peers (at least to my face) remarked on the good work that I did. My immediate supervisor lauded me on the good work that I did and declared that I was one of the best teachers he had seen. Even the man who gave me a poor evaluation was heard to remark that I was a good teacher. While I am not sick or lame, it seems particularly nasty for you to suggest that if you are sick or lame then you need to be summarily dismissed. Now calling people lazy whom you do not know is both nasty and stupid.
What is remarkable is that you are not even aware of the incompetence of your own hero, the "warrior woman". She disparages collaboration, however if you knew anything about the "Impact evaluation for teachers" you would know that "collaboration" is mandated in the evaluation system and teachers are penalized who do not participate. Value added scores determine a teacher's life for one year's results, but when testing scores dropped for elementary schoolsr Ms. Rhee's staff declared that "one year should not determine whether she is being successful". This is a portrait of your hero. Hypocritical, inconsistent, unprofessional,nasty, vindictive, hateful, and vengeful. Your attitude toward the lame and the sick are perfectly reflective of the person that you worship.

Posted by: 4therecord | September 29, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Rhee's agenda is to recruit new employees from Teach For America (TFA) non stop. Unfortunately, Rhee told too many lies. If one person tells one lie, then another lie he/she will forget the first lie. Honesty, character, integrity and leadership builds lasting and healthy relationships.

Who likes a liar?

It was never about all of the DCPS students' academic achievement. It was only about Rhee's image to be a "Superman Reformer"!!

Who is waiting for Superman?

Enough is Enough, Rhee MUST GO!

Posted by: sheilahgill | September 29, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse


Furthermore, I am not depending upon Mr. Gray or any other person to get my job back. I will pursue my appeal vigorously to restore my good name and to remove the stain of "ineffective" from my employment record. It is my motto that doing well is the best revenge. Therefore I have now enrolled in a Phd in education program (which I am qualified for) and will spend this unexpected free time improving myself. And when my termination is overturned (because of how it was so incompetently pursued), I will thank DC and Ms. Rhee for paying me while I improved myself. I don't need Mr. Gray or anyone else to stand up for me. My God and I are quite capable of doing that ourselves.

Posted by: 4therecord | September 29, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Back in 2007, Michelle Rhee told the friendly Jeff Chu of FatsCompany that her lover, Kevin Johnson, told her spend her weekends visiting the African American churches to build support for her changes
(when asked if she had become religious, she responded Oh, God, No.)

Did she actually do this?

Did it stop?
What was the reaction from the people in the churches?

Posted by: edlharris | September 29, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse


Maybe you are the one exception to the rule, although judging by your own admission to having received a poor evaluation, somehow I doubt it.

Maybe you are also not one of the habitual sick and lazy people I referred to in my previous posting, but after having spent 32 years in government service in several different agencies, I am well aware of how some "tenured" employees are hardly ever at work for one reason or another, causing their coworkers to carry their load. I am not talking about people who may at one time or another been legitimately sick or hospitalized. If you were honest with yourself and spent any amount of time in the DC school system then you know exactly what I am talking about or are deliberately being obtuse.

Nor does it end there. Shall we talk about the teachers issued DC government credit cards for purchasing school supplies who instead went on personal shopping sprees, but the school system could not take any action against them because they had failed to keep credit card records? How about computers purchased for the schools that disappeared en masse? Or perhaps you would like to defend the convicted felons hired as security guards to protect the students who were either never checked by the school system or in some instances, whose felony records were known but nothing was done. You don't want to get me started pal.

Oh, and for the record, I am no great fan of Chancellor Rhee. She had zeal but came across as being arrogant and lacking political savvy, which is what this article is about. However I have lived in this city for longer than Rhee has been alive and I am sure of one thing, the DC school system was and still remains a terminally cancerous patient requiring radical surgery. Rhee started the surgery, but it still requires many more operations. And if you can't face that truth and want to keep looking for excuses, then you deserved to be sacked.

Posted by: EMIP | September 29, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse


My, my, I see you have a thin skin. Let's leave my circumstances to the appeals court (apparently you ignored what I said about the statments made about my performance by my supervisors). But as for your initial post it did not specify nor was it accurate (by your own admission). I guess I would I would not support Ms. Rhee either given her proclivity for self inflicted wounds. Now if you are going to justify her actions by the inappropriate behaviors of some (many of which are not even teachers whom you attacked initially) then you are digging a rhetorical hole that you will never be able to get out of. In any profession you can find demons, malcontents, and scandoulous behavior. The answer for that is the consistent intelligent application of reasoned and responsible authority. Your litany of infractions by some teachers and a host of other persons does nothing to support your original assertion. The fact of the matter is that when you put out my eye because someone else put out other folks eyes we are going to all be blind. Sanity, intelligence, and common decency have to be our guidelines to correct, which is admittedly, a horrendous circumstance. You could also drop the snarky jabs, they are ineffective and do not do you good service. And by the way I am always honest with myself to a fault.

Posted by: 4therecord | September 29, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

"Any time spent selling your agenda or navigating the political landscape is time taken away from the urgent work at hand."

I didn't know she did that much work. It seems she was always traveling around the country or visiting KJ.

In addition, she appears to have a lot of politicians on her side. That means she was spending time courting them.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 29, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse


Good luck!

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 29, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

If I did react in a "thin skin" way in my previous comments, it's probably due to my frustration at the DC teachers union which appears to view its mission as maintaining a jobs program for all of its members instead of initiating training programs and setting internal union requirements to encourage its weaker members to become more proficient.

I understand the enormous hurdles that all teachers in DC face daily. From trying to get apathetic parents interested, to dealing with kids having problems no young person should be confronted with. But my frustration is compounded by the fact that other inner city or impoverished jurisdictions which face the same problems have managed to overcome them.

All this week I have been watching the series "Education Nation" featured on NBC TV during their nightly World News program. I urge all educators to spend ten minutes and click on the links I have attached below. Why does Finland have the top rated educational system in the world? How has the Pocomoke Middle School located in a poor part of rural Maryland been so successful? Which of the ideas that have worked for them could we incorporate into our schools in DC? And afterwards, treat yourself to the movie "Waiting for Superman" due to open in area theatres on Oct. 1st which details the success story of Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone charter school project.

Let's look at this as a new beginning and try to work together for all our sakes. Yes we can! Peace.

Posted by: EMIP | September 29, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the advice about Geoffrey Canada, Superman and NBC, read this article by a teacher who, along with parents, were originally ignored by NBC and totally ignored by Oprah:

Stephen Lazar was, briefly, one of the teacher panelists on NBC's Teacher Town Hall. He relates his experience in Education Nation: I Should Have Known Better.

Parents and teachers across America express outrage at NBC's "Education Nation" tells more about the absurd NBC event.

Posted by: edlharris | September 30, 2010 2:08 AM | Report abuse

superintendent position.......Michelle Rhee is not qualified and none of the above cities want Chancellor Rhee.

Posted by: hello101 | September 30, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

EMIP, why does Finland have such an outstanding educational system? Well, among other reasons, they not only value well-educated teachers, they require that teachers be well educated.

Posted by: sanderling5 | September 30, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

That's Great EMIP

Now we can have a conversation. The purpose of the WTU is to protect its members, just like the American Medical Association protects doctors and the American Bar Association protects lawyers. Teaching is somebody's job. People invest years of their time and considerable amounts of money to be certified to work in a position that has difficult working conditions and low pay. Why do we do it, because to see the light in the eyes of a child who is learning is a delight beyond measure. But be under no illusion this is a job, just like the one that paid your mortgage and helped you raise your children. If this job, that I love is going to be taken, then make damn sure you do it professionally and fairly, because you will hit the wrong people. Impact was not ready for implementation. I don't object to being held accountable but don't p** on my leg and tell me it's raining. If DC is going to destroy people's lives then make sure you have a plan to improve the schools. There are some schools where they replaced the entire staff and the school's scores are still in the low teens.
Yes this is also about jobs. Please tell me who in their right mind would invest seven years of their lives and thousands of dollars to be fired and tainted with the stain of ineffective because of many factors beyond their control. And when we are out of this economic downturn and these other folk go back to their day jobs, good luck getting people to make that committment.

Posted by: 4therecord | September 30, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

"While involving people to get their buy-in takes effort, that buy-in ensures quicker and smoother implementation of the final decision. Even more important, it gives the change higher odds of surviving the departure of its sponsors." Yesssss! Why is it that so many leaders don't understand these two sentences? Check your ego at the door and the work inside will be better and longer lasting!

Posted by: aspnh | September 30, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse!/RunFentyRun?ref=ts

Posted by: Postpost44 | September 30, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Lets face it guys, Michelle Rhee was simply not qualified for the job. There are many outstanding administrators who would have instituted changes that would have lasted with collaboration, consensus, and a unified approach to management. It appears to me that Ms. Rhee needs to go on to graduate school or take some middle to upper level management courses to educate herself on other successful ideas for transformation and how to get middle managers and associated personnel on how to buy in to aggressive reform measures. The actions that she took clearly did not exemplify someone who had the management expertise to implement changes that are needed in a school system or any successful operational structure for that matter.She and her heralded leader were a bit to immature( and not necessarily in age - because you can be young and wise) - but immature in successful management techniques and ideas that will cause - in this case-an educational school system to succeed. I am a successful Director in private industry who has volunteered my time and expertise to the D.C. school system for the past 20 years. I have seen some of the most qualified and passionate teachers get fired through a program that was instituted hurriedly and had many flaws. It certainly did not take into account the population that the program was supposed to serve. The school system needs reform by a qualified manager with a proven track record in transforming urban education. This is no job for a neophyte or someone trying to make a quick name for themself.Lets pray that the new superintendent exemplifies these characteristics.

Posted by: xcel1 | October 1, 2010 4:01 AM | Report abuse

Radical changes are just that, radical changes. They are not sustainable. There is nothing new about that and Rhee's failure, being unqualified in the first place was predictable and most probable.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 1, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Thank you xcel1

Thank you for your temperate words. As a terminated teacher I can tell you I weep for the children of DC. And had the process been fair I would simply accept that I did not have what it took to teach in an urban setting. But the blatant bias and rampant incompetence that I witnessed in the evaluation process makes it impossible for me to accept the results. Once again I voted for the contract knowing that a poor rating could result in my termination. I did not vote for the money I voted for the ideals that that contract embodied. I voted for the contract knowing the vindictiveness of the chancellor and her appointees. I voted for the contract knowing the biased evaluations that I had already received. But I was unwilling to vote against this document (whose principles I agree with)simply for my self-interest (it's not about me). I voted for the contract because I believe that teachers should be held accountable. "How" we are held accountable is a separate argument from "whether" we should be held accountable. My challenge is to the "how" not the whether. And even the "how" (Impact) is not completely offensive to me (although I do have problems that the subjectivity has to much weight). It was the completely incompetent manner in which this evaluation tool was implemented that I am challenging. Xcel1 identifies the issue here. If Ms. Rhee had had the correct credentials she would not have used duplicity, vitriol, and intimidation to accomplish what could have been accomplished with intelligence and consistency. If anyone has endangered reform in DC it is Ms. Rhee. She has squandered this opportunity given to her by the electorate and the Council and thereby endangered the needed changes by too closely connecting the success of those changes to her terribly flawed personality. The end does not justify the means. What you do getting to your destination will define who you are when you get there.

Posted by: 4therecord | October 1, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Edharris Great Links!

Posted by: thelildiva4u | October 1, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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