New Schools Chief Builds Team

Acting D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is putting together a transition team to try to solve problems on the fly.
Acting D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is putting together a transition team to try to solve problems on the fly. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

Acting D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is assembling a transition team that will guide the strategy for the new school session starting in August, focusing on hiring principals and other pressing issues during the summer months.

The team will be led by Jenny Abramson, 30, an advertising manager at The Washington Post, city officials confirmed yesterday. Abramson will take an unpaid leave of absence from The Post for an unspecified period to work for Rhee, company spokesman Eric Grant said. Abramson previously directed program strategy for a year at the national nonprofit organization Teach for America.

Abramson, who referred inquiries about her new position to the mayor's office, is the daughter of the late David B. Abramson, a local ad executive and civic leader. She attended Stanford University, where she made friends with Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former president Bill Clinton. Abramson also graduated from the London School of Economics and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Abramson is an example of the young education specialists in Rhee's network who have been lining up to work for the District school system after Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) selected Rhee last week.

Rhee, former director of the New York-based New Teacher Project, is 37. Rhee's deputy, Kaya Henderson, the former vice

president of the nonprofit, is 36. Rhee's executive assistant, Jacqueline Greer, who also worked at the nonprofit, graduated from the University of Chicago in 2001.

Meanwhile, sources said Rhee is actively recruiting Billy Kearney, the Memphis director of the New Leaders for New Schools, a nonprofit training program for principals, to work on principal hiring for the school system. Last week, Rhee decided to freeze the hiring of new principals because she was concerned about the quality of the candidate pool.

Rhee is assembling her team before a scheduled July 2 confirmation hearing by the D.C. Council. The council also will hold a confirmation hearing June 27 for Victor Reinoso, the Deputy Mayor for Education.

Eric Lerum, Reinoso's chief of staff, said that Rhee is moving quickly to assemble a mix of educators and project managers who can work on back-to-school issues. She also wants them to be ready to address potential problems after the delivery of a financial audit of the school system, being conducted this summer by two consulting firms, the New York-based Alvarez and Marsal and McKinsey and Co. of London.

Lerum said Rhee's transition team will function separately from the school system's senior staff members, who worked for former superintendent Clifford B. Janey. He said the transition team will focus on problem-solving, while the senior staff will be dealing with day-to-day operations.

"You've got to fly the plane while fixing it at the same time," Lerum said. "Senior staff fly the plane while the transition team comes in and works on what the fixes are," Lerum said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company