Gray outlines his agenda for education in District

Speaking with The Washington Post's Nikita Stewart, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee hints that her tenure as schools chancellor hinges on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's reelection bid over D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 2, 2010

Calling the Fenty administration's approach to education reform "shortsighted, narrow and sometimes secretive," D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray unveiled a blueprint Thursday to guide education policy if he is elected mayor.

The plan promises more transparency, funding equity for public charter schools, tax credits for early-childhood programs and greater support for the city's neighborhood high schools.

Educators, students and supporters filled the library at Thurgood Marshall Academy, a public charter high school in Southeast, where Gray outlined an ambitious plan and tried to further distinguish himself from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who has made public schools one of his priorities.

Gray, who is challenging Fenty for the Democratic nomination for mayor, said he gives "tremendous credit" to Fenty for calling attention to the need for education reform. But "what we've learned over the past three years is that it's not enough to have mayoral control. What we need, ladies and gentlemen, is mayoral leadership," he said to hearty applause.

Gray's 15-page plan reflects broad areas of agreement with the reform program led by Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. The plan comes during a week of political one-upsmanship by Gray and Fenty, beginning Monday when the mayor canceled an appearance at a well-publicized education forum.

Fenty appeared to counter what became a cozy town hall meeting for Gray by holding a news conference Tuesday on three years of progress. And he had Rhee by his side. On Thursday, he held a news conference 1 1/2 hours after Gray's.

On Wednesday, WAMU radio and The Washington Post ran interviews with Rhee in which she all but closed the door on serving as chancellor if Gray becomes mayor. In interviews, Rhee said Gray did not share Fenty's philosophy on education reform. Gray has been noncommittal when asked about Rhee's future should he be elected.

On Thursday, Gray continued to make the case that school reform "cannot hinge on one person."

But his supporters were fired up by Rhee's involvement in the election. "I am offended by the Rhee offensive," said former council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), who was among several community leaders in the school library. "My whole time in D.C. politics, I've never seen anything like this. . . . Listen, this is not about your career. This is about the children."

The audience included school board member Lisa Raymond; Virginia Williams, mother of former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D); philanthropist Judith Terra; and Jacque Patterson, president of the Ward 8 Democrats.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) praised Gray's plan for going beyond "teaching to the test" and being more comprehensive.

Gray reiterated his support of mayoral control of the school system, noting that Fenty had voted against a similar takeover as a council member. Gray's plan adopts ideas embedded in the District's new contract with the Washington Teachers' Union, including holding educators accountable for student performance and paying them accordingly.

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