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Students First Picks Michelle Rhee's Successor

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By Andrew Ujifusa. Cross posted from the State EdWatch blog

StudentsFirst, the K-12 advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee that pushes for increased school choice and the end to seniority-based employment decisions for teachers, named Walton Family Foundation K-12 adviser Jim Blew as its new president in an Oct. 7 vote. 

Blew has served as an adviser to the Walton foundation on education for over a decade, according to StudentsFirst's statement announcing Blew's selection, although he's also been described as the "Director of K-12 Reform" for the foundation. From 2000 to 2005, Blew directed campaigns for the Alliance for School Choice, as well as its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council. 

Rhee announced earlier this year that she was leaving her position as StudentsFirst's CEO, in order to spend more time supporting her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. 

"With nearly 20 years of experience in education reform, Jim is the perfect leader to take StudentsFirst to the next level and continue growing the strength of the organization. We are incredibly proud to add him to our team," said Rhee in StudentsFirst's statement. "He's been an important partner and advisor to me since my days as Chancellor in D.C., and he has worked alongside us to help grow our organization for the past four years."

Blew's start date has not been set, although he's expected to take over within the next few months. Rhee remains on StudentsFirst's board of directors. 

"They've accomplished an awful lot," said Blew of StudentsFirst, according to a Reuters report. "It's a great record to build on."

In a 2011 interview with Eastern New Mexico University Professor Michael Shaughnessy, Blew said this about the Walton foundation's goals: "We make our investments with the goal of expanding the right of all parents to have access to quality schools, regardless of type. Our belief is that when all parents have the ability to choose among quality schools for their children, a competitive dynamic emerges that can inspire all schools to get better." (The Walton Family Foundation provides grant support for the coverage of parent-empowerment issues in Education Week.)

StudentsFirst has gone through more than a change in leadership this year. Prior to Rhee's announcement that she was leaving her leadership role, the organization shut down five of its state-level affiliates, including those in Florida and Minnesota, and it plans to focus more attention on a smaller number of states.  

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