It’s a wrap. Michelle Rhee is leaving her post as D.C. schools chancellor. Though it dispelled weeks of speculation, her announcment is hardly a surprise.
After all, she made it very clear—from her active campaigning for Mayor Adrian Fenty to her public lamenting after his defeat— that her tenure was dependent, motivated, shaped by the absolute control she enjoyed under Fenty- — and likely wouldn’t under political victor Vincent Gray.
No, her ouster is not news to me— though I find her departure timeline a bit surprising. But what really intrigues me about Rhee is how she became news in the first place.
How and why did she garner so much attention? She’s not the first mayor-appointed schools chief, a phenomenon that began two decades ago with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino who scored big when he nabbed former U.S. Secretary of Education Tom Payzant as city superintendent.
Though Rhee and Fenty’s no-holds barred approach has ruffled many feathers, they were hardly the most controversial duo. As a former Chicago reporter, I can assure you Mayor Richard M. Daley and city budget director-turned schools chief Paul Vallas are hardly the warm and fuzzy type … then again, that is Chicago.
And lest you think, it’s a gender thing, that Rhee is so highly publicized because she is an anamoly as a high-powered female tasked with a challenging urban school system, did you forget about her predecessor, Arlene Ackerman, who now heads the equally challenging Philadelphia school system?
I don’t know why or how Rhee became such a central figure in the public discourse of education reform … I suspect she sought much of the media attention herself.
But now that she’s made her decision, is all that attention still necessary? Do we need to discuss and deliberate about where she’ll go next? And more importantly, do we need to worry and wonder what will become of D.C. public schools when she’s gone?
Because to me, the future of urban eduation and urban school reform should never rest on the shoulders of one person. And maybe that’s why Rhee became such a lightning rod in the first place.
Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor