Thursday, August 2, 2007

New Chancellor Aims to Change Culture of DC Public School System

Michelle Rhee, the new Chancellor of the always-troubled D.C. Public School System shared her solutions for DCPS at the Ward Five Education Town Hall Meeting held earlier this evening at McKinley Technology High School and hosted by Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr. A Washington Post article offers a detailed analysis of the situation: "The system is among the highest-spending and worst-performing in the nation."

Rhee should be held to a very high standard, for at least the reason that her $275,000 salary (
article) must be justified. After hearing Rhee's speech and her responses to questions, I am cautiously optimistic that finally some progress will be made. Her theme: "We need a wholesale culture shift in this District." Amen.

Rhee vowed to instill a system of accountability, beginning with the DCPS Central Office, and is convinced that the answers can be found at some location other than 825 North Capitol Street N.E. Rhee said that what she has found so far at the Central Office is "beyond disturbing." She walked around the building asking employees "What do you do," and several could not describe what duties their jobs entailed. Calls from students and parents are being "treated as a nuisance" when in fact "these are our customers." The Central Office culture has resulted in principals calling 14 times for toilets to be fixed, rather than having time to serve the students and teachers.

When 5C-02 resident
Ted McGinn, who served as a panelist, asked a question about the per-pupil funding mechanism and whether Rhee would work to increase funding, her response exhibited strong fiscal responsibility instincts. She spoke of a "need to streamline the Central Office so we can push more money down" to the schools. She added that "before I ask the Council for any money, I need to make sure that every single tax dollar is well utilized." That analysis is being done by consultants. In the meantime, there is a restriction on the hiring of any Central Office employees.

Why did it take so long for the District of Columbia to take this approach? It is long overdue. As a Commissioner with many schools packed in his single member district (more than the other 11 ANC 5C districts put together), I am encouraged that Rhee appears determined to change the course of DCPS. Time will tell whether rhetoric translates into results.

* * *

Prior to the forum, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Councilman Thomas, and scores of residents gathered to acknowledge the development of the new sports field at McKinley Tech. I had the opportunity to meet the new principal, David Pinder, and later chatted with the former principal Dan Gohl, who has been a true asset to the community. Commissioners John Salatti and Alison Defoe attended, and the ever-resourceful Michael Henderson recorded the scene (click photo to enlarge).

(Rhee photo credit: Preston Keres/Washington Post; Commissioners photo credit: Michael Henderson / Edgewood Civic Association).


John S said...

The new Principal at McKinley is actually David Pinder.

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