Rhee Steps Down, Pledging Reforms Will Continue

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced that she is stepping down during a news conference on Wednesday morning at the Mayflower Hotel.

Mayor Adrian Fenty and presumptive mayor-elect Vincent Gray held a press conference with Rhee and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who will succeed Rhee as interim Chancellor.

Rhee will leave at the end of the month because she and Gray agreed that Gray "deserves his own team" to run the school system. During the press conference, she described it as a "mutual decision."

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said he appreciates the timing of Rhee's decision.

"The best out of this is she's making the decision sooner rather than later," Parker said.  "I think that kills all the speculation. We can move forward with trying to get to the business of running the schools and improving the outcomes of our students. We can move forward with that now that we know whether she's staying or going. It's a good thing that we now know."

Rhee is "not walking out in a huff," the sources said, but that she is happy Henderson is taking over.  Gray and Rhee agree that there must be "continuity, commitment and collaboration" going forward, sources said.  The sources said that Henderson is much more collegial than Rhee -- a key criticism of the outgoing chancellor.

Rhee described her team as "the most talented and dedicated in the nation" and said that Henderson was an "absolutely unbelievable candidate."

Before becoming deputy chancellor, Henderson served as the Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at The New Teacher Project, where she oversaw the organization’s work on improving teacher hiring for school districts from a process, policy and capacity-building perspective, according to her DCPS bio.

"I think that would be a good choice," Parker said.  "Deputy Chancellor Henderson was intensely involved in the contract negotiations, so she is well aware of the content of the contract we negotiated, and I believe she has a commitment to ensure that we implement the contract. If this contract is implemented with the kind of integrity that we expect, then it's certainly going to improve D.C. Public Schools and it's good for our students."

Rhee and the DCPS system have been the subject of increased scrutiny -- and praise -- since she joined Fenty's administration.

Rhee -- appointed by surprise by Fenty in the summer of 2007 -- imposed major changes and fired hundreds of teachers and central office staff during her tenure.  While many said city schools desperately needed reform, critics say Rhee was cold, aloof and distant from the rank-and-file employees.

Rhee openly campaigned for Fenty in the primary against Gray, all but assuring she would not stay on.  Gray rebuffed all questions about Rhee's future. On September 24, Gray and Rhee held a summit about which much was said in advance but since has been followed by silence.

Sources said Rhee and Gray agreed that she was not a good fit in his potential administration and decided that she should leave. With Henderson as her successor, Rhee feels the reform effort begun under her will continue.

A documentary about education in the U.S., "Waiting for Superman," in theaters now, interviews Rhee.  That gave her an opportunity to take her story to a national audience -- one that included Oprah Winfrey.

Who will replace Rhee in the long run?  If not Henderson, some names that have been thrown out include Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Director Robert Bobb and Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist.

Who won't it be?  Discussing the next D.C. schools chief with the Washington Post’s Bill Turque, Gray said, “It won’t be Cliff Janey.”

Janey ran D.C.’s schools before Rhee, and currently runs the Newark, N.J., school system. He was recently told his contract will not be renewed, and a top contender to replace him in the Brick City is… Michelle Rhee.

Gray told Turque that if he does replace Rhee, “his preference would be for new blood, not a heavily traveled schools leader who has been around ‘for 35 years.’”

Gray also “expressed bewilderment” over Rhee’s much-discussed “shell-shocked demeanor in front of the cameras after their Sept. 23 meeting. He described the 90-minute session as ‘a very good conversation’ with substance and smiles that went smoothly until it came time to meet reporters.” Gray said Rhee “didn’t want to face the media,” and only “adopted a sour face” when he told her she needed to do so.

Earlier this month, Rhee announced that enrollment in the school system had increased for the first time in 39 years.

The district said 73 of the system's 123 schools saw increased enrollment.  Though the official count is pending an accountant's review, an unaudited report found increased enrollment in some schools in all eight wards.

The early counts mark a continued improvement since 2009, when enrollment showed a marginal decline of less than 1 percent.

Stay with NBC4 and NBCWashington.com for more information.

Contact Us