Michelle Rhee has been on the job three years come this summer. They've been filled with wrenching school reforms, dismissals and disruption at nearly every corner of the school system.
But somehow during all that, she managed to have a personal life and this fall she's marrying Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star who is currently mayor of Sacramento, Calif. The wedding is being held in California.
On the WAMU 88.5 "Politics Hour" Friday, we asked Rhee if this was her way of indicating she's moving west and leaving the District after three turbulent years.
"Asolutely not," she said unhesitatingly. "We talked about it before we got engaged. Kevin has lots of work to do in Sacramento. I still have lots of work to do here in D.C. and the bicoastal relationship works for us."
In the wide-ranging interview, Rhee said she appreciates the 100 percent support she's had from Mayor Adrian Fenty, who appointed her in the summer of 2007.
"The mayor has been just so supportive at every turn, in spite -- in some cases -- of a lot of political blowback," Rhee said. "The chancellor said she didn't think it would be appropriate if she went out on the campaign trail, but she clearly supports Fenty's re-election in the September Democratic primary. "The only reason I came into this job (was because of Mayor Fenty and) ... the unwavering focus he has on public schools."
Rhee said the budget confusion that for a time threatened the new teachers' union contract is behind her. She'll await the outcome of the union ratification vote over the next three weeks, but the higher pay scales -- 20 percent more and higher -- are already attracting new teachers to the District. She said the system will hire as many as 400 new teachers depending on resignations and retirements.
Rhee created a sensation and waves of criticism last fall when she fired 266 teachers in October for budget reasons. But she said she hoped to avoid any disruptions like that this year. The Washington Teachers Union is still in court battling over those earlier layoffs and disputes about whether they were caused by legitimate budget concerns.
Asked about her hard-charging personality and the view that she is dismissive of anyone who doesn't agree with her, Rhee was measured in her response. She said she's made a lot of mistakes in her first three years and would apologize for any of them. But she said she won't apologize for the pace of reforms that she says the school system desperately needs. She said she won't apologize "just to smooth the political waters."