It’s been a few years since Michelle Rhee left the District and Kaya Henderson, once her deputy, took over the city’s public schools. In that time, Rhee tells WAMU, she’s learned the value of something that she was accused of being bad at while she was here — communicating:
“Now when I talk to school superintendents across the country, one of the things I say is you have to be very cognizant of how you’re communicating,” she says. “One of the mistakes we made was we were doing the work and it was clear to us why closing schools, or doing layoffs by quality rather than by seniority was important, and yet we didn’t do a good job of connecting the dots for people.”
During her time in D.C., Rhee was often criticized for communicating better with national stakeholders than local ones. She famously posed for a Time magazine cover bearing a broom, said she had fired teachers for molesting and abusing children (which wasn’t wholly true) and proclaimed that Mayor Vince Gray’s 2010 victory would be “devastating” for the city’s schoolchildren, a comment she later walked back. Her failure in establishing a broad coalition across the city was evident in the wake of Gray’s election — there wasn’t anyone left to fight for her to remain atop DCPS.
In the interview with WAMU, Rhee said that while the education reforms she implemented have continued in the District, the dynamic has changed: “I think the reforms have definitely continued. Kaya Henderson worked with me for three and a half years, and I have tremendous faith in her and her team. I do think there’s a difference though. Mayor Fenty and I spoke every day — I think when you have that dynamic, it creates a difference sense of urgency in the city overall.”