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D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced today that she will resign at the end of the month, bringing an abrupt end to a local tenure that attracted nationwide attention. We explore what her resignation means for the future of D.C. schools, and the political battles likely to come.
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 and American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the future of homeschooling in the Washington region. But first, the face of the DC Public Schools' system changes once again. DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced today that she will resign at the end of the month, bringing an abrupt end to a local tenure that became a flash point in the nationwide conversation about education reform. Rhee attracted both praise and opposition for her aggressive decisions during the past three years. Her departure clears the way for a new mirror to chart a new course for the city's school system. The news was announced at a press conference this morning. WAMU reporter Patrick Madden was on hand. He joins us now by telephone. Patrick Madden, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. PATRICK MADDENWell, thank you, Kojo. I think I'm actually at the last remaining payphone in the state. But the press conference wrapped up over an hour ago. And Rhee says her decision to step down was not made lightly. In fact, she says it was a mutual one between her and Council Chairman Vincent Gray. And she also opens up a bit during this press conference. She talked about how it breaks her heart not to be the schools chancellor and how she put her, as she put it, her blood, sweat and tears into this role.
NNAMDIShe had one pretty clever statement. The best way to keep the reforms going is for this reformer to step aside. What explanation did she offer for why she decided to resign during the middle of the school term rather than serve out the rest of the year?
MADDENWell, it's a good question, and in fact, both Gray and Rhee were sort of coy about who made the decision. Gray called it an unusual one. And Rhee says that her replacement, who was her deputy chancellor, Kaya Henderson, should sort of assuage any fears that folks may have, that education reform is taking a step back, because this new interim chancellor comes from the Rhee -- sort of the same sort of school, so to speak, as Rhee. She worked at Teach for America, The New Teacher Project. And Rhee says that means that reforms should continue in the city.
NNAMDIDo we know what kind of relationship we can expect that the interim superintendent -- I'm using the word interim loosely because she will be replacing Michelle Rhee but we don't know her future. Any idea of what kind of relationship she has, Kaya Henderson has, with Chairman Vincent Gray?
MADDENThat's a big question, and I think one we're gonna learn more in the coming days. But I do know that this pick wouldn't have been made if it wasn't approved by the Gray cabinet. And Gray had to sign off on Kaya Henderson becoming the interim chancellor. But their relationship, that's gonna be a good question. How they're gonna be able to work together, because clearly that was one of the major problems during Rhee's tenure, sort of her relationship with the council and some of the other city leaders.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Patrick Madden. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5. He covered the press conference this morning, in which schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, says she will be departing at the end of the month. If you have comments for us, 800-433-8850. You can call or go to our website, kojoshow.org, make your comment there. Send as a tweet @kojoshow or an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. What timeline, if any, did Vincent Gray offer for choosing a permanent replacement for Rhee? And any indications that -- he'd leave any indications that Kaya Henderson could end up being that person?
MADDENWell, that question wasn't addressed. I think that, again, right now she's interim. And it's something that everyone is gonna try to find out. Is this just an interim pick for the remainder of the school year, or will, you know, this just be something that happens for a month or two, or is this -- or she be considered, you know, to remove the interim title? So I think that, you know, it's a very good question.
NNAMDIBecause she is clearly very closely associated with Michelle Rhee as a reformer. But she is also the one, Patrick Madden, who, as my understanding, led the school system and its negotiations with the Washington Teachers' Union. What has been, as far as you know, the response of the Washington Teachers' Union to Kaya Henderson's appointment.
MADDENWell, I know that George Parker at the WTU said that this was the right move, for Rhee to step down, that the city needed to move forward. Now, in terms of how the teacher's union will be able to accept Kaya Henderson, who as you mentioned, was, you know, very much part of the negotiation process for the collective bargaining agreement that was landmarked, but also a very tough one on the teacher's union. That's gonna be something to watch, moving forward.
NNAMDIAnd, you know, one thing I have to mention that people tend to forget in all of the angst, acrimony and tension between the school system and the teacher's union, is that controversial contract was voted on overwhelmingly in favor by the teacher's, remember that?
MADDENExactly. And I think -- another thing that we're all gonna be following is what happens to -- this contract relies on a lot of private money. And some of that private money is -- were, you know, relies on Rhee staying here as chancellor? So that's another question, what happens to those -- the $65 million in private donations that is part of that contract, so that teachers could become some of the highest paid in the country.
NNAMDIAnd from speculating on whether Michelle Rhee will be staying with DC Public Schools, we now move one to speculating about what Michelle Rhee's future will be? What did you garner from this remark that we're about to hear.
MS. MICHELLE RHEEMy goal is to continue to be able to serve the children of this nation. I think that one of the things I've learned of last four and a half years is that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done across the nation, lots of communities that wanna push these reforms forward. And so I look forward to serving America's children in my next roll as well.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden, there's always been speculation about a future national role for Michelle Rhee. I infer from that statement that that future may be sooner than we think.
MADDENI completely agree, Kojo. When you sort of parse that statement, it's clear that she is seeking more of a national role, and perhaps not one where she is taking over another school district, but one where she can push education reform, the agenda, at least, you know, from a national perspective.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, she did also say kind of tongue-in-cheek that she'll be spending a lot more time in Sacramento. She will be spending time with her husband to be, who's the mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson. But was there any inference there, or did you infer from that that she might be moving to Sacramento?
MADDENWell, you know, that's a great question. She had talked about sort of how it was possible for her to have this bicoastal relationship, and she would be able to move back and forth. But it does seem, you know, she did talk about taking some time off. She talked about Sacramento where, as you mentioned, Kevin Johnson lives and works right now.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, she said that during conversations, she and Council Chairman Gray, the presumptive mayor of the District of Columbia, agreed that it would be best for her to go because, I guess, she is -- she has become for the chairman a distraction.
MADDENYes. And I think just looking at the number of, you know, satellite trucks from all the major networks and cable news shows. I mean, this has become the big question, whether Rhee would stay or not. And, of course, now, we have the big follow-up to this -- to the question, which is what is Rhee going to do next? Will she move to another school district? But I think from Gray's perspective, and it's something that Rhee mentioned as well, that this gives the presumptive mayor-elect or the Democratic nominee for mayor, Vincent Gray, a fresh start, a chance to pick someone who he can get behind, and it gives him sort of a fresh start.
NNAMDIAnd the opportunity to carry on the rest of his, well, I'll call it a victory tour, the rest of his town meetings without being questioned that everyone of them about what's he's going to do about Michelle Rhee.
MADDENRight. Yeah, that was the -- or the one question that kept coming up, and, you know, he's repeatedly said he will not make any decisions until after the November general elections but -- so, at least, that question will now be off the table, but, of course, now, we're gonna know whether -- we'll all be asking whether this interim chancellor is -- how long will she be on, whether he's looking outside, is he trying to find other prospective schools chancellors? So it's -- I'm not sure that the question is gonna go away entirely.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden, whose investigative resources as a reporter led him to find a pay telephone in the District of Columbia. Patrick, thank you very much for joining us.
MADDENThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden is a reporter for WAMU 88.5 News. He joined us by pay telephone. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, an update on the homeschooling movement that's been spreading rapidly over the past decade. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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