- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee yesterday called the city’s struggling school system a “faceless bureaucracy,” adding that it does not need to augment its 11,500-member work force.

“We have thousands of people [in school administration] right now who don’t know what their jobs are and who are not being effective in the positions that they have,” Mrs. Rhee told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “So why am I going to layer on top of that additional people who also won’t know and who also won’t have clarity on what they’re doing? I’m not going to do it.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Mrs. Rhee — selected by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to reform the District’s 55,000-student school system — said that students and parents should expect clean, safe schools when classes begin Aug. 27 and that teachers will have adequate supplies.

The new chancellor has faced several difficulties that have plagued the system for years, including news that at least half of the city’s 146 schools may not have textbooks by the time school starts and that others will not have air conditioning.

Mrs. Rhee yesterday said she expects the “vast majority” of textbook problems to be solved within the next few weeks, as officials identify what is stored in the system’s book warehouse and which schools have extra books they can give to others.

Mrs. Rhee, 37, also said that increasing the staff of the textbook department from one to five persons — as recommended by a school-system consultant — and raising its budget from $1.5 million to $8 million is “not my solution.”

The chancellor prohibited any hirings in the school system’s central office without her explicit approval, but she refused to confirm or deny that any staff members would be fired for bungling the delivery of textbooks.

“My actions will speak for themselves,” Mrs. Rhee said. “When I send the signal, there will not be any questions.”

Mrs. Rhee told several stories illustrating the endemic problems she has encountered since taking her position in June and offered examples of a bloated bureaucracy that increasingly has hampered school improvements.

In one situation, she said parents hoping to help transport books from a middle school that is transitioning its ninth grade to a high school were told by system officials that the books had to be sent to the warehouse before going to the high school.

“People are so focused on following the rules and the procedures,” said Mrs. Rhee, who intervened and allowed parents to move the books. “What is the right thing for the kids? What is the right thing for the schools? The right thing for the schools is to move the books as expeditiously as possible from this building to this building.”

Mrs. Rhee said 17 of 19 principal vacancies have been filled with interim heads, and candidates are being vetted this week for the two remaining slots.

“Verification teams” also finished their first round of visits to every city school last week to identify problems, and officials are working to fix as many as possible before school opens, the chancellor said.

Mrs. Rhee said she will continue to focus on core areas of reform that include improving student achievement by assessing teacher and pupil performance. The result will be a “data-driven” system that will create better teachers and subsequently better students, she said.

“You’re not teaching unless your kids are learning, and unless we’re able to actually measure that learning and see that is taking place,” she said.

The chancellor said a key to her succeeding where past superintendents have failed will be rounding up good reform ideas throughout the District and “getting everybody pointed in the same and right direction.”

“This is not rocket science, right?” Mrs. Rhee said. “I believe that we are beginning to create a sense of hope in the District that something is going to be different and something is going to be changed.”

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