By guest blogger Sean Cavanagh
District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced this morning that she is resigning after three and a half years in the job.
"I put my blood, sweat, and tears into the children of the District of Columbia," Rhee told a news conference. She thanked the parents in the district, as well as the teachers, with whom she has frequently had a contentious relationship.
Rhee said she hadn't determined her next step but planned to take "a little time off." Her goal, she said, was to serve the children of this nation.
She is confident, she said, that the policy changes she pushed during her tenure would continue after she departs, including the implementation of a new teacher contract and new teacher evaluation system.
"The best way to keep the reforms going is for this reformer to step aside," Rhee said. She added, "this was not a decision we made lightly."
Rhee's future in the district had been in doubt since Mayor Adrian Fenty's loss in the mayoral primary last month to Vincent C. Gray, the city council chairman.
Gray, who is widely expected to win the general election next month in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, joined Rhee at the news conference. Both Gray and Rhee described her resignation as a mutual decision. Rhee said the presumptive mayor should be allowed to choose his own leadership team. During the same news conference, Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson was introduced as the district's future interim chancellor, to take the helm after Rhee leaves later this month, and she said she would continue Rhee's work.
During her tenure, Rhee drew national attention for pressing for reforms in the troubled D.C. school district. She pushed to close underachieving schools, overhaul a teacher contract to include performance pay, and fire underperforming central-office workers. Her role in the newly released film "Waiting for 'Superman'" has given her even wider recognition.
In an interview with Education Week reporter Dakarai I. Aarons the day after the primary election, Rhee said she and Fenty had no regrets about the pace of reform they undertook in trying to fix one of the nation's worst-performing school districts.
"What a lot of people were thinking was it was too much or too fast or something like that," Rhee said then. "But I think we can rest soundly at night knowing that we really believed that that sense of urgency was necessary. We didn't want to wait another day knowing that another D.C. child was not getting the education they deserve so it was only the best intentions we had in terms of the pace of reform."
At the news conference, Rhee said that Gray's appointment of Henderson as interim chancellor was an indication of the presumptive mayor's committment to education. The move "should put any fears aside of what reforms will look like under a Gray administration," Rhee said. "The answer to that question is that reforms will continue."
Gray, while praising Rhee, suggested he was interested in hiring a similarly aggressive replacement for her.
"Your efforts have placed school reform at the top of the public agenda, not just here in D.C. but as we all know, across the nation," Gray said of Rhee. "We cannot, and will not revert to the days of incrementalism in our schools. Our schools must continue to operate under the leadership of a strong, empowered chancellor who will move school reform forward."
Photo: D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee listens to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty during a news conference in which she announced her resignation. —Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP