Chicago---Basking in the glow of a national spotlight, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee rattled off to a crowd of about 200 education reporters her accomplishments during her first year on the job: firing 100 central office staffers, finalizing plans to close 23 schools and preparing initiatives to overhaul 27 schools where students lag academically.
But she said the single most important factor in moving the system from the bottom to the top is having good teachers.
"What we know is the quality of teachers we have will make or break us," said Rhee, the luncheon speaker at the National Education Writers Association conference.
Rhee has been making the rounds nationally. She was recently in New York and Memphis, making appearances with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Rhee said she's also delivering the commencement speech at the University of Michigan.
"Unless we have unbelievable educators in the system, it's all going to be for naught."
Rhee recently offered buyouts to up to 700 teachers at 50 schools slated for closure and academic reorganization.
Today she said she's launched an "aggressive and strategic" recruiting effort to draw high- quality teachers. She added that she hopes to "have a compensation system to reward great teachers."
John Merrow, who has been chronicling Rhee's first year for the Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, asked Rhee if there will be dramatic changes in the teachers contract currently in negotiations.
In the past, she has expressed interest in basing teachers' raises on such factors as student performance.
"Yes, I hope so," Rhee said.
Asked whether she'll have the power to more easily fire teachers, she said, "I can't answer that question. In a few weeks I'll be happy to lay it out."
Asked whether she plans to fire more central office workers, she said, "yes."