Michelle Rhee, who made a reputation for being a firebrand reformer, resigned from her job as head of the D.C. Public Schools today, a casualty of a bitterly fought mayoral race.
Though Rhee and her take-no-prisoners education reforms were not officially on the ballot in Washington, when Rhee's champion, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary last month it was widely assumed that Rhee's tenure as schools chancellor would soon end.
At a press conference this morning in Washington, Rhee said that her decision to step down at the end of this month was one that she and incoming mayor, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, made together.
"This was not a decision that we made lightly, but it is one that I believe is absolutely essential to allow Chairman Gray to pursue our shared goal of unifying the city behind the school reform efforts that are making such a large difference in the lives of the children across the city. In short we have agreed together that the best way to keep the reforms going is for this reformer to step aside," Rhee said.
"I have put my blood sweat and tears into the children of the District of Columbia for the last three and a half years and I completely enjoyed every minute of it," she said. "The thought of not being in this role anymore is heartbreaking, to put it mildly, but I do know that it is the right thing for the school system and the right thing most importantly for the children of D.C."
During her tenure, Rhee, who appears in the new hit documentary "Waiting for Superman," became a national figure for school reform. Student test scores improved and dropout rates declined in the city. Rhee negotiated a controversial contract with the teachers union that enabled her to fire the lowest-performing teachers in the system and evaluate teachers based on their students' performances.
"All across the country now, because of Chancellor Rhee and her team, from the White House to documentaries, people are touting D.C. as a model for how to attack bureaucracy and get results in an urban school system," Mayor Fenty said.
But Rhee's approach to reform was not without controversy. In July, Rhee came under fire when she dismissed 241 teachers and put an additional 737 on notice. She has also been accused by the education community and District residents of alienating those around her. For example, in December 2008, her attitude was called into question when she posed on the cover of Time Magazine with a broom in hand under the title "How to Fix America's Schools."
Fenty, who appointed Rhee in June 2007, said she has "exceeded all of my expectations."
"It's not just the results that all of you know so much … but it's the excitement that she and her team have brought to the school system. The tough decision-making, what residents believe is a breath of fresh air, and a willingness to do what is right even if it has political consequences," the outgoing mayor said.
Under a deal negotiated with Gray, Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson will take over for Rhee at the end of the month. Rhee's senior leadership team will also stay in place through the end of the school year to ensure minimal disruption to students.