Rhee Moves To Dismiss Up to 30 Principals

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wrote to possibly as many as 30 principals.
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wrote to possibly as many as 30 principals. (Photo: Lois Raimondo/Post)
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By Bill Turque and V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, continuing a series of aggressive personnel moves, has started notifying principals -- possibly as many as 30 -- that they will not be reappointed for the 2008-09 academic year, officials said yesterday.

Turnover among principals, who work under one-year appointments, typically occurs near the end of the school term. About 15 to 20 are usually dismissed, according to the Council of School Officers, which represents principals.

This year's changes are the subject of heightened interest, however, because Rhee is required to overhaul 27 city schools that have failed to make adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Ten high schools, including Anacostia, Eastern and Wilson, 11 middle schools and six elementary schools are subject to sweeping changes in management and curriculum under the measure.

A form letter over Rhee's signature went out to the principals identified for firing yesterday afternoon. It was to be followed by a series of one-on-one meetings between the principals and instructional superintendents, their immediate supervisors, said Rhee's spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson.

"I am writing to provide you with notice of my decision not to reappoint you to the position of principal with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) for the 2008-2009 school year," the letter began. The dismissals are effective June 30.

In e-mails to The Washington Post, Rhee declined to name the principals she is dismissing, calling it "an ongoing process."

"Parents will learn this directly from the District, which is appropriate, AFTER we tell the individuals who are impacted," she wrote.

Rhee's letter said that before leaving the school system, the departing principals would be expected to work closely with their school communities on budgeting, staffing and other issues "to successfully close out the current school year and position your school for a smooth school opening in August."

Hobson said that she could not specify the number of principals to be dismissed because final decisions had not been made but that the total would probably be between 24 and 30.

Rhee has not been reticent about removing employees since her appointment by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in June. She fired 98 employees of the school system's central office in March, part of an effort to establish what she called "a culture of accountability" by shedding unproductive or unnecessary staff members. Last month, she offered buyouts to as many as 700 teachers nearing retirement or working at schools scheduled for closure or restructuring under No Child Left Behind. Fewer than 300 have applied for the package.

Recruiting and retaining high-quality principals have been longtime challenges in the school system. In 2005, then-Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said 25 to 40 percent of the system's 140 principals "are not the caliber they need to be."

Officials from the Council of School Officers said they had no information on who would or would not be reappointed. Some principals reached yesterday said they had not been told whether they would return in the fall.

"I'm looking forward to hearing," said one high school principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Frances M. Plummer, executive director of the D.C. Association of Elementary School Principals, called the firings "wholesale and heartless" and said Rhee was damaging the school system.

"To cut people loose at this juncture does not benefit children," she said. "If you are about the children, you should be about the teachers and administrators, too."

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