Rhee to resign as schools chancellor

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By Tim Craig and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee will announce Wednesday that she is resigning at the end of this month, bringing an abrupt end to a tenure that drew national acclaim but that also became a central issue in an election that sent her patron, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, to defeat.

Rhee survived three contentious years that made her a superstar of the education reform movement and one of the longest-serving school leaders in the city in two decades. Student test scores rose, and the teachers union accepted a contract that gave the chancellor sweeping powers to fire the lowest-performing among them.

But Rhee will leave with considerable unfinished business in her quest to improve teaching, close the worst schools and infuse a culture of excellence in a system that has been one of the nation's least effective at educating students.

She will be replaced until at least the end of the school year by Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson, a close associate.

Rhee and presumptive mayor Vincent C. Gray recently reached a "mutual decision" during a phone conversation that it was best for her to step down, said people close to both, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They both agreed the sooner they could put this to bed, the better for the kids and the community, " an official close to Gray said.

Under the deal, the school system's senior leadership team will also remain in place under Henderson through the school year to reassure parents that there will be minimal disruption.

Gray and Rhee declined to comment Tuesday. But a news conference planned for Wednesday morning appears designed to demonstrate that Rhee, Gray and Fenty are united in pursuing school reform while easing dissension in the community over Rhee's tenure. Fenty, who plans to appoint Henderson to the interim job at Gray's request, is expected at the news conference.

The move won immediate support from the Washington Teachers' Union, which has long battled Rhee. "I think leaving sooner is better than later, so there will not be all this speculation," said union head George Parker. "Making a decision will relieve the tension."

But D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who endorsed Gray but has generally supported Rhee's initiatives, said, "I'm deeply disappointed … We always heard it was about the children. I don't think it is good for the children for her to leave in the middle of the fall. I had always hoped that if she wanted to leave she'd be part of a smooth transition."

Rhee's departure has been anticipated since Fenty was defeated in the Sept. 14 Democratic mayoral primary. She campaigned on his behalf and questioned whether Gray had the political will to make the unpopular decisions she thought were necessary to sustain school improvement.

Two weeks ago, Gray and Rhee met for about 90 minutes to begin talking about her future and the chairman's vision for school reform. Since then, the two have held several private phone discussions, said those familiar with the discussions.

Gray and Rhee agreed that the debate over her future was becoming a distraction for teachers, students and parents, people close to them said.


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