More Criticism Over Fenty's Secrecy

By David Nakamura and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

District leaders stood beside Michelle A. Rhee on the steps of city hall yesterday as a show of public support for the newly nominated D.C. schools chancellor, but they complained behind the scenes about the secrecy with which Mayor Adrian M. Fenty made his surprise selection.

On the morning he took direct control of the public schools, Fenty (D) officially introduced Rhee, 37, as his choice to lead the 55,000-student system, and city officials said they were hopeful and would work with her to accelerate educational improvement. But Fenty did not inform the council of his choice until the eve of the announcement and did not give her name to a panel of parents, teachers and students as the takeover legislation required. Fenty, however, said he had complied with the law.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) pledged to hold confirmation hearings on Rhee's nomination quickly. George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said he has a good relationship with Rhee from her previous post as chief executive of the nonprofit New Teacher Project. And Robert C. Bobb, head of the new State Board of Education, praised her management skills, although others raised questions about her lack of experience operating large organizations.

Rhee vowed to work tirelessly, calling on one more group of key stakeholders -- students -- to join her.

"You are the folks I am ultimately accountable to," Rhee said at a morning news conference on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building attended by her parents and two young daughters. "To go from where we are now to where we need to be will take tremendous work. Get ready to work hard but get stronger, to be pushed but also to excel. Every day, my pledge is to make decisions with the unwavering confidence that you can do this. My job will be to ensure nothing stands in your way."

Rhee wasted little time making her mark, appointing Kaya Henderson, a vice president at the New Teacher Project, as her deputy. At the same time, two of departing superintendent Clifford B. Janey's top deputies, Peter Parham, chief of staff, and Robert C. Rice, special assistant, resigned.

Yet even as Fenty and Rhee made the rounds yesterday -- they stopped by the school system headquarters on North Capitol Street, then toured Benning Elementary School in Northeast -- council members, parents and school employees were scrambling to learn more about their new schools chief.

Rhee and the New Teacher Project, which recruits and trains teachers to serve in urban districts, are well known in education circles. The organization has two contracts with the D.C. school system totaling $980,000. But Fenty's selection of Rhee came as a shock to most.

Fenty conducted his search furtively, talking to education experts in other cities and rarely consulting with local officials or parents. He had interviewed Rhee at city hall a few weeks ago, but no council members knew of Fenty's interest in her until they both showed up at Gray's office about 11:30 Monday night.

"There he was with Ms. Rhee," Gray said. "He gave me her name but didn't give me a context."

The three sat down, and Fenty introduced her as the next chancellor of public schools. Gray's reaction? "She hasn't had a vast amount of management experience," he said. "There will be a wait-and-see period."

Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said in an interview that Fenty talks to "everybody except council members" and warned that he will cast a sharp eye on Rhee's background during her confirmation hearing.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company