Duncan: Gray will continue school reform

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who won the Democratic mayoral primary, said his cabinet would look
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who won the Democratic mayoral primary, said his cabinet would look "like the city." (Katherine Frey/the Washington Post)
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By Nick Anderson and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 9:53 PM

Presumptive mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray, facing the most keenly anticipated personnel decision of his administration-in-waiting, is scheduled to sit down with Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee on Thursday for a conversation that is expected to address how long Rhee will remain on the job.

Rhee, an appointee of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), has signaled that she has no long-term interest in working for Gray, who challenged several of her key decisions and enjoyed heavy financial support from the Washington Teachers' Union.

She campaigned against Gray in this summer's Democratic primary. After he won last week, she told an audience that the outcome of the contest was "devastating" for the city's schoolchildren. She later said her comment was not a denunciation of the D.C. Council chairman but a lament that the results could be perceived as a blow against reform.

Sources in the Gray campaign said he was not pleased with Rhee's post-election analysis but that he remains steadfast in wanting to confer with her before making a decision about whether to look for a new chancellor. What's not known is whether Thursday's gathering will bring any closure to what often has been a tense, awkward relationship.

Gray received two significant statements of support Wednesday for whatever he and Rhee might decide, one from the Obama administration and the other from a key player in the city's business leadership.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that he was "a big fan" of Rhee's and hoped that she would stay because urban education often suffers because of rapid turnover in school leadership.

"I'd love to see Michelle have a 10-year run in D.C.," Duncan said. "That may or may not happen."

But Duncan, who appeared with Fenty at a couple of high-profile Education Department events in the final days of the primary campaign, predicted that Gray would be a strong force for education reform in any event.

"If Vince Gray becomes the mayor, he's going to be passionately committed to improving the quality of education," he said at a breakfast by the Christian Science Monitor. "He knows what's at stake here. D.C. has made tremendous progress. D.C. desperately needs to continue to make significant progress. D.C. for a long time was frankly a national disgrace, educationally. It was an embarrassment."

Duncan added: "If you're asking me, 'Is reform going to continue in D.C.?' Absolutely."

Terence Golden, former chairman of the Federal City Council, an influential group of District business leaders, said in an interview Wednesday that although he hoped Rhee would remain, he had full faith in Gray's commitment to the continued improvement of the school system.

"Chairman Gray has been a great supporter of education reform," Golden said, citing his work to generate support for mayoral control of the school system.

Although Rhee "has done an extraordinary job," Golden said, he has not written or spoken to Gray since the primary urging that he seek to retain her.

andersonn@washpost.com turqueb@washpost.com Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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