- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Michelle A. Rhee intends to “shine a bright light on achievement” if confirmed as chancellor of the District’s public-school system, she told members of the D.C. Council during her confirmation hearing yesterday.

“And I intend to make the District of Columbia public schools among the brightest in the nation,” said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s choice to run the troubled public schools as part of his takeover plan.

The confirmation hearing also included witnesses who defended her resume assertions of dramatic student improvement under her watch in a previous job, amid concern that she doesn’t have the experience for the chancellor position.

Mr. Fenty, who walked with Mrs. Rhee into the council chamber yesterday, selected her last month to help reform the District’s 55,000-student school system.

The 37-year-old mother of two began her career as an elementary-school teacher in Baltimore and later founded a New York City nonprofit that places teachers in low-performing school districts across the country.

The Washington Times reported last week that Mrs. Rhee has not been able to prove statements on her resume that students she taught at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Community School in the 1990s went from scoring in the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile on nationally standardized tests by the end of her two years teaching them.

Mrs. Rhee repeated yesterday that she did not have documents to support the increase but that she was told by the school’s principal that her students had achieved such a gain.

“We did not actually have documentation at that time,” Mrs. Rhee said in response to a question about the test scores from Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat. “Since then, I’ve actually … looked into multiple times if that information was available from the Baltimore school system and they repeatedly told me it was not.”

Mrs. Rhee said she would like to create a system that provides teachers with documentation of students’ progress. Several of her former colleagues at the Baltimore school also vouched for her success in the classroom before the council.

“I was in the classroom, so I know that the children came from a mighty long way,” said Michele Jacobs, who co-taught with Mrs. Rhee at Harlem Park.

Linda Carter, Harlem Park’s former principal, said after her testimony that she at one time had a document that listed Harlem Park test scores by grade level and school comparison. Those scores showed significant gains, Ms. Carter said, and she told the council that she had seen documentation showing gains of more than 50 percent in at least the third and fifth grades at Harlem Park.

During yesterday’s marathon hearing that lasted more than 11 hours, Mrs. Rhee also outlined her priorities for the school system, which include rebuilding the costly special-education program, expanding career- and technical-education offerings and implementing an interim-assessment program to track the progress of students and teachers.

During her four hours answering questions, Mrs. Rhee emphasized bringing quality principals and teachers into schools and creating greater accountability among school-system personnel.

“I have no interest in creating a new plan for a new plan’s sake,” she said. “I am not interested in doing new things. I am interested in doing effective things.”

The council is expected to vote on Mrs. Rhee’s nomination next Tuesday.

In addition to specific questions about school reforms, Mrs. Rhee also faced queries from the council about how and when she was approached by Mr. Fenty about the chancellor job.

Council members have criticized the mayor for his secrecy in selecting Mrs. Rhee and have said he did not fully honor a requirement in his takeover legislation to establish a review panel to vet candidates.

“Do you endorse the noncollaborative process by which your nomination was chosen?” Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, asked Mrs. Rhee.

“I can speak to my own personal style, which is very collaborative,” she replied.

Mr. Mendelson also asked Mrs. Rhee whether she had anything to do with the treatment of dismissed Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who Mr. Mendelson said was locked out of his office and had his e-mail account shut down.

Mrs. Rhee said no and added that she had tried to contact Mr. Janey, but he was out of the country.

Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, questioned Mrs. Rhee about her thoughts on plagiarism — another jab from the council at the Fenty administration for its copying of portions of a schools plan from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.

“I think that it is very important as I go forward working with my staff … that we give proper acknowledgment and credit to” sources of best practices, Mrs. Rhee said.

The overwhelming majority of witnesses who testified yesterday spoke in support of Mrs. Rhee. Among them were New York City schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, who highly recommended Mrs. Rhee to Mr. Fenty, and Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star who runs a California nonprofit that includes oversight of charter schools for which Mrs. Rhee serves on the board.

“She gets her hands dirty; she rolls her sleeves up,” Mr. Johnson said. “She’s made and cut of something a little different than most folks.”

Many of the witnesses had met with Mrs. Rhee one on one or in meetings prior to yesterday’s hearing.

Cherita Whiting, chairman of the Ward 4 Education Council, was one of several citizen activists and community leaders who opposed Mr. Fenty’s school takeover plan but pledged their full support for Mrs. Rhee’s nomination.

“A resume cannot tell you all you need to know about a person,” she said. “My personal opinion, after meeting with [Mrs.] Rhee, I am in support of confirming her nomination.”

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