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Rhee Races to Deliver Most Books by Monday

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday that her goal is to have 95 percent of the school system's textbooks in the schools by opening day on Monday, but almost 40 percent of those books were not in place one week before classes will begin.

In her first textbook update since castigating the inventory system at the schools' Northeast warehouse this month, Rhee said there are 500,000 textbooks and related items -- such as workbooks and teacher manuals -- in the 141 schools or in the warehouse.

"That kind of count just didn't exist before," Rhee said to reporters outside Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast. After her Aug. 3 warehouse tour, she said, she created a task force to count books and institute a common electronic form for schools to submit orders.

But school officials could not provide a total for the number of books the system needs for its students. They expect to have that number within a few days of opening day.

Despite numerous reform efforts by the D.C. Council, former superintendents and the D.C. Board of Education, securing textbooks in time for opening day has remained a long-standing issue. The problem is a mix of factors: a textbook department staffed by one person, a mix of paper and online ordering systems and an inconsistent method of designating people to track inventory.

Rhee also said that all 20 principal vacancies have been filled.

Of 220 teaching vacancies, 25 positions are still to be filled, Rhee said, adding that she expects hiring to continue until the first day of school. About 70 teachers are without class assignments and will be matched according to their subject areas.

She spoke at a news conference with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), their third back-to-school briefing since he took control of the school system and named her chancellor in June.

Between mid-July and mid-August, the school system's central warehouse received orders from individual schools for 69,000 textbooks, Rhee reported. Almost 61 percent, or 42,000, have been delivered and the rest will be distributed by the first day of school, she said.

One-third of items still to come will complete orders for new science and social studies texts across all grade levels. Although schools received the majority of books needed for those subjects in the spring, principals recently put in new orders because of changes in enrollment or because they hadn't received enough copies, education officials said.

Tomorrow, Allen Y. Lew, director of the school system's office of modernization, is to give an update on school conditions, including air conditioners and cold-weather readiness.

The school system will spend $50,000 to rent the Washington Convention Center for a "Welcome Back" event for teachers Thursday and Friday. According to the agenda, speakers will include the mayor and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) as well as such nationally known education speakers as Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Part pep rally and part training session, the event, co-sponsored by the Washington Teachers' Union, will also feature hands-on workshops, including "Transforming Geometry" and "Teaching Word Problems."

Union President George Parker said some members have complained that they would rather spend the last few days before school opens getting their classrooms ready. But overall, he said, most teachers are looking forward to it.

"One of the things that our members have told us repeatedly is that they want a back-to-school gathering so they can hear from their leader to help set a direction for the school system," Parker said. Such an event did not take place under Clifford B. Janey, the former superintendent, Parker said.

Fenty praised Rhee for "working tirelessly" to prepare the 55,000-student school system for a smooth opening. Rhee said that although she had made great strides on some fronts, "we are finding new issues and challenges arising every day." For example, she said, more than 4 million personnel documents are unfiled. Rhee and Fenty will lead a tour of the document room today.

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