Rhee's living room meetings: Few but far-flung
My colleague Courtland Milloy's Sept. 27 column ("Rhee Needs to Take a Look in the Mirror") drew considerable reader response, especially for his implication that the chancellor ingratiates herself to white DCPS stakeholders while disregarding the concerns of African Americans:
"What Rhee didn't say is that she has gone all out to make residents who live in the wealthier, predominantly white parts of the city feel good," Milloy wrote. "And if their feathers got ruffled and needed smoothing, she went so far as to visit their homes for coffee klatches and pep talks.
So what happens when black residents on the other side of town start waving their hands -- don't forget about us; we'd like to feel good, too? Rhee holds them up for ridicule. School reform is not "warm and fuzzy," she says."
Rhee does hold living room meetings in the homes of parents and other constituents who express an interest in hosting. I asked DCPS for a list of home meetings by ward over the last year, and it doesn't show a whole lot. School officials say there have been all of eight. Two in Ward 8, two in Ward 6 and one apiece in Wards 2, 3, 5 and 7. Rhee didn't make it to any living rooms in Wards 1 and 4. Spokeswoman Safiya Simmons said there have been "many more interested hosts than scheduled meetings." Snow made it impossible to hold any in February.
DCPS also reports that it has held 66 community meetings on various topics over the last year with some, but not all, attended by Rhee. Twenty have been in Wards 7 and 8.
"We are one of the few school districts that has a community engagement policy that holds us accountable to the community for engagement in all parts of the city all the time," said Peggy O'Brien, DCPS chief of Family and Public Engagement.
Needless to say, this doesn't settle the issue. The question of who does and does not have the chancellor's ear is a far more complex matter than tallying up a list of meetings, whether they're held in school cafeterias or living rooms. Communities with social capital, with networks of residents and institutions capable of organizing effectively to communicate their message, usually enjoy the advantage when speaking to power.
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