The question on everyone’s mind these days is: What’s next for school reform?
On Wednesday, October 13, Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced her resignation, and Mayor Fenty and Chairman Gray jointly announced the appointment of Kaya Henderson, Rhee’s deputy, to serve as interim Chancellor. I am a big fan and supporter of Rhee. She started to tackle some very important issues which had not been addressed before: closing down underutilized facilities to maximize efficiencies and support-service costs (which helps put money back in the classroom where it belongs), instituting a system for evaluating teachers, and getting a groundbreaking union contract approved which takes performance and meritorious performance into account, among others.
Did she do everything right? No. But fundamentally I believe she was going in the right direction. Just a few short years ago, we had no plan for fixing up or building new schools, and we had mediocre outcomes for our children with no one – from top to bottom – ever losing their job over poor performance. These things had to change and, under Rhee, they did.
I was an early supporter of Mayoral control of the schools long before it was popular. It was my main theme when I ran for Mayor in 1998. I am supportive of the actions taken yesterday by the Mayor and Chairman to install Ms. Henderson on this basis. She gives every indication of having not only the spirit of a reformer, but substantive experience in the District, particularly in helping continue to bring about change.
I hope she will bring many of the same reformer qualities to the job while maintaining a constructive working relationship with Gray. As Chairman Gray has stated on multiple occasions, school reform is bigger than any one person, and we must work to see that this is so by continuing to focus on substantive issues. Two of the most pressing tasks ahead in the near future are of course implementing the new union contract, as well as fine-tuning the IMPACT teacher evaluation system. We cannot go back to the days when no one was ever held accountable.
All of this must be done in the climate of a $400 million budget shortfall and continued overspending in our school system.
Getting this right – and I agree there are various sensitivities involved – is nonetheless important for the future of our children and our city.