Chancellor Rhee Speaks to CAG

Chancellor Rhee Speaks to CAG

Last night Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee spoke to the Citizens Association of Georgetown at the Hyde-Addison School. Rhee spoke for about an hour to the packed crowd of mostly supportive listeners.

Before the meeting, however, a set of impressive student ambassadors gave members of the audience personal tours of the Hyde and Addison buildings. GM was particularly impressed with the poise and enthusiasm of his three ambassadors.

Now to the meeting: Rhee started it off with a quick introductory speech. She thanked Hyde principal Dana Nerenberg and congratulated her on being one of DCPS’s exemplary principals. Specifically she cited two of Nerenberg’s accomplishments.

First, Rhee mentioned that Nerenberg had developed a program to improve special education by offering Hyde as a location for more “inclusion kids”. To accommodate the addition children, Nerenberg worked with school building czar Alan Lew to completely renovate the empty Addison school. The school took over the Addison school last spring. Now kindergarten through first grade are in Hyde, while second through fifth grade are in the gleaming Addison building.

Second Rhee mentioned Nerenberg’s work with the principals of Mann and Janney.  Together they developed a collaborative program for their three schools to help spread their success to six less highly achieving schools. The program enables the struggling schools to learn best practices from the higher achieving schools.

After speaking about Nerenberg, Rhee stated that we are nowhere near being able to say we can provide a good education to all the kids in the school district. But despite telling a journalist last year that she would give herself a failing grade, Rhee stated that there are nonetheless hopeful signs of progress. Specifically she mentioned that the improvements that the fourth graders made in math last year put the District in first place versus all the fifty states in terms year-over-year improvements.

Adorably, shortly after Rhee made this claim a student ambassador raised his hands and wanted to clarify that it was in fact his class-year that had increased its performance so well. The crowd got a kick out of that.

Rhee Speaks

During the Q & A session, Rhee fielded mostly friendly questions from the audience. However, given some of her controversial decisions, particularly of late, it was inevitable that some members of the audience were less than enthralled by her words. Two audience members challenged her on the recent firings of 266 teachers. They asked how the school could go on a hiring binge last summer (when they hired 934 teachers) and turn around and have such deep cuts so soon after.

Rhee defended her actions by making two points. First she stated that while the budget appeared to be level from last year, when you take into account the added responsibilities that DCPS was assigned last year without additional funds, the budget is lower.  Secondly she stated that the Council told her that the budget was final in June when it alloted $568 million to DCPS. She did not apologize for hiring teachers early since the better teachers are hired earlier in the summer. She stated that by the time the Council adjusted the budget on July 31st, 913 teachers were already hired.

She explained that the reason they hired so many teachers was that she was able to allocate more money to the schools for hiring. She stated that when she arrived two years ago, DCPS sent only $403 million of its budget to the schools themselves. Now they send $603 million.  This enabled the schools to hire more teachers and Rhee stated that the hiring was focused primarily on special education teachers.

The Q & A session ended with an interesting question about student retention. The audience member asked what the schools were doing to keep the neighborhood children who start at Hyde but make their way to private schools by 4th grade. Rhee acknowledged that problem and admitted that Hardy School (Georgetown’s middle school) has not gained the confidence of many neighborhood residents in the way that she believes Deal School has with Tenleytown residents. She teased the audience by mentioning that an exciting new plan for Hardy was in the works, but that she couldn’t really talk about it. She promised that by December it would be public.

Finally Rhee repeated that if she were to grade herself she’d still give herself an F. Too much is left to be done, she said. But she was hopeful that by the end of a second Fenty term we will have a radically different school system.

GM hopes she’s right.

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3 Comments

Filed under Citizens Association of Georgetown

3 responses to “Chancellor Rhee Speaks to CAG

  1. Pingback: The Morning Metropolitan «

  2. Pingback: ANC Round Up: Let There Be Neon Light «

  3. Pingback: Showdown at Hardy: Rhee To Announce Plans Tonight «

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