- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday took control of the District’s public schools, immediately fired the superintendent and selected a former teacher and leader of a New York City-based nonprofit to head the troubled system.

Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, named Michelle A. Rhee, 37, as his choice for the new position of schools chancellor.

She is expected to replace Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who was hired in 2004 but was criticized by Mr. Fenty for moving too slowly on reforms.

“The wheels are in motion for action, and the time for dramatic change begins today,” Mr. Fenty said during a press conference on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building. “It was very important to me that this be the first order of business.”

Mrs. Rhee’s hiring was Mr. Fenty’s first move since he assumed control of the school system at 12:01 a.m. yesterday, when a mandatory congressional review period for his school takeover legislation expired.

A native of Rossford, Ohio, Mrs. Rhee began her career as an elementary school teacher at Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore.

The majority of her second- and third-grade students scored at the 13th percentile on standardized tests, but 90 percent of them scored at the 90th percentile by the end of her second year at the school.

In 1997, Mrs. Rhee founded the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that recruits teachers for work in urban school districts such as Atlanta, Baltimore, the District and New York.

Her work has earned her accolades such as the Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award in 2004, as well as plaudits from first lady Laura Bush, who invited Mrs. Rhee to be her guest at the State of the Union address in 2004.

Yesterday, flanked by the mayor, administration officials and most of the D.C. Council, Mrs. Rhee promised immediate change and said a quality teacher is the best way to improve the classroom.

“The education that [D.C. students] are receiving is subpar, substandard and, frankly, it’s no longer going to be acceptable,” she said.

Mr. Fenty said he selected Mrs. Rhee after meeting with “virtually every top” school official in the country and reviewing a list of candidates compiled by Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso that at times totaled about 30 names.

Michelle stands out because she has an intimate understanding of the issues in the school district,” Mr. Reinoso said. “She knows it, but she’s not of it.”

If Mrs. Rhee’s selection is approved by the council, she will become the seventh person in charge of the city’s public schools in the past 10 years and the first non-black to head the system in decades.

Under the new governance structure, Mrs. Rhee will be administrator of the 55,000-student public school system and report directly to the mayor. The school system has a budget that tops $1 billion and 11,500 employees.

At her nonprofit, Mrs. Rhee oversaw a staff of 120, and her group reported revenues of about $13 million in 2005.

Mrs. Rhee said yesterday that Kaya Henderson, a vice president at the New Teacher Project and former board member of the local nonprofit EdBuild, will be hired as a deputy chancellor.

Mr. Fenty’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Neil O. Albert, is a former president and chief executive officer of EdBuild, which partners with public schools to improve academics and crumbling school facilities.

Mr. Fenty said the administration is working on finalizing the details of Mr. Janey’s contract buyout, and that Mrs. Rhee would receive a salary of about $250,000.

Tax returns show that Mrs. Rhee earned a base annual salary of $149,500 at her nonprofit in 2005, the last year for which a tax return was available.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, at-large Democrat, said he hopes to move quickly with Mrs. Rhee’s confirmation process.

n Jim McElhatton contributed to this report.

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