The Washington Post

Public engagement chief O’Brien departs

Throughout the polarizing debates of the Michelle Rhee era, there was at least one source of consensus: that DCPS wasn’t very good at telling its own story. Evening community meetings were often poorly attended. Parents complained about trouble getting accurate information quickly. Grand plans seemed to be presented as done deals rather than a basis for discussion.

This was not all Peggy O’Brien’s fault. But the school system’s chief of family and public engagement took a lot of heat, some of it from Rhee, who frequently trashed the agency’s communications strategy. When Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson made it plain in January that DCPS needed to re-think its outreach plan from the ground up, it was fair to conclude that O’Brien’s days were numbered. O’Brien confirmed in an e-mail exchange a few days ago that she’d submitted her resignation to Henderson. In keeping with Washington tradition, she said that she wanted to spend more time with her family.

“Talked to Kaya about it awhile ago,” she said. “Seemed to me that it’s the right time for me and for her too. I’m 63 and there are some other kinds of work that I want to get on to--and I also need to arrange my life so that I can spend more time in California [where she has new twin granddaughters].

“Kaya will certainly be confirmed as Chancellor relatively soon, and this way she can bring new energy and perspective to this part of the work right out of the gate. So it’s all good and makes sense to both of us.”

Henderson said Tuesday that O’Brien was not pushed. “Peggy resigned of her own volition,” she said.

O’Brien is the third member of Michelle Rhee’s leadership team to peel away since her resignation in October. She joins chief operating officer Anthony Tata and general counsel James Sandman in checking out.

O’Brien once taught at Eastern High School, but came to Rhee’s inner circle in 2008 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where she was a senior vice president for education. She was also the Folger Shakespeare Library’s first Head of Education.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.

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