D.C. Board President To Stay in Education

Robert C. Bobb says he plans to remain involved with education issues, although he will not seek reelection to the D.C. State Board of Education.
Robert C. Bobb says he plans to remain involved with education issues, although he will not seek reelection to the D.C. State Board of Education. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 30, 2008

D.C. State Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb, who will leave the board at the end of the year, said he plans to stay involved in education issues.

"I believe that I can play a greater role in the larger arena of public education," he said. "That's what I intend to do, and I will absolutely keep my hands in the mix, both locally and nationally."

Although Bobb decided earlier this week not to seek reelection, he said he has few regrets about the work the board has done. Still, Bobb, dressed in a baseball cap, business casual and brown cowboy boots as he talked over coffee, longed for the work he has not been able to do during his almost two years on the board.

"I know that in public education, being on the ground, in the trenches, is in my heart, in my soul, and that's why I ran to be president of the school board," Bobb said.

When Bobb was elected in 2006, he became the high-profile president of a local school board with control over day-to-day operations and the authority to approve the schools budget and hire and fire the superintendent. After Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took over the schools last year and appointed Michelle A. Rhee chancellor, the board's role changed dramatically. Suddenly, Bobb was head of a board with responsibility to establish teaching standards but with little control over daily school life.

Bobb said the transition brought frustrations but left him satisfied with the work the board has accomplished. "It's been an important year," he said.

The board approved new standards for health education, home schooling, teacher quality and special education. But it has had to sit back as Rhee pursued her aggressive reforms. Bobb met Rhee for a meal the day after she became chancellor and had a only few more meetings with her.

"I believe that the chancellor is taking the appropriate approach in turning the entire organization upside down," Bobb said. "We would like to have had a little bit more involvement" in the reforms, especially ones involving the budget.

Bobb came to the District in 2003 as a high-profile pick for city administrator by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). He had previously served as city manager of Oakland, Calif., Richmond and several other cities. He was well-regarded, but he resigned in 2006 to run for the school board.

"The connection between education and public life has always been part of who I am," he said, mentioning his rural Louisiana upbringing. Education "was my way out," Bobb said, and running for school board "was just a natural progression."

Bobb said he has enjoyed the board's regulatory role and has been fortunate to work with people who get along. He says he is concerned about problems that could arise when the board, a mix of elected and appointed members, becomes an all-elected board next year. For example, the school board president, previously elected by voters, will be selected by the board members. That process, Bobb said, might cause tensions.

"My fear is that . . . it's going to become less policy-focused and more political," he said. "We've proved that we can appoint people to the board, and they can be great members."

Meanwhile, Bobb looks forward to the rest of the year's work, although he missed Wednesday's board meeting due to a business conflict. He is especially interested in working on programs designed to bridge "the preparation gap" for children up to age 3.

Some who have worked with Bobb will miss him.

"Bobb has always been about getting the work done," said Deborah A. Gist, the state superintendent of education. "I was looking forward to working with him."

When he leaves in December, Bobb said he plans to pursue his consulting business, which includes providing management advice to officials in Oakland, New Orleans and other cities. Bobb also plans to volunteer in local education organizations, particularly ones that focus on reading.

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