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					                    LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                        Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                           Podcast Title: No Regrets
                                  July 22, 2008

                                      TRANSCRIPT

JANE RENAUD: MICHELLE RHEE HAS MADE IT THROUGH HER FIRST YEAR
IN WASHINGTON DC, WORKING TO FIX ONE OF THE WORST PUBLIC
SCHOOL SYSTEMS IN THE COUNTRY.
JOHN MERROW MET UP WITH THE CHANCELLOR TO REFLECT ON THE
MONTHS PAST, AND TO HEAR HOW SHE WOULD EVALUATE HER
PERFORMANCE.
JOHN MERROW: What are you most proud of—this is your one-year anniversary,
basically. What are you most proud of about this year?
MICHELLE RHEE: What am I most proud of? Um ... I'd say ... that I'm proud of the
fact that we have made ... um, some very difficult decisions that, um, there was very
vocal opposition to. That we stuck to our guns.
JOHN MERROW: Decisions on ... ?
MICHELLE RHEE: Closing schools, restructuring schools. Um, moving people out of
the, um, of the school district. Um, and I feel very proud that we stuck by those decisions
and that we know now that our kids are going to benefit from the fact that we did that.
We will, for the first time since anyone can remember in the district next year, ensure that
every single school has an art, music, P.E. teacher and a librarian.
JOHN MERROW: Any mistakes this year?
MICHELLE RHEE: Oh, lots of mistakes.
JOHN MERROW: Name one or two.
MICHELLE RHEE: Name one or two? For me the difference is, people ask me all the
time, you know, “Do you have regrets?” And I actually don’t have any regrets, I think
we’ve talked about this before—I live my life, I don’t have any regrets. But were there
mistakes along the way? Sure. There were wrong calls here or there. I don't regret any
of those, though, because I believe that all of them have made me make better decisions
moving forward.
JOHN MERROW: How about parents and community people who have kids in the
school? How do they feel?
MICHELLE RHEE: I think the ... the vast majority of parents feel good. I mean, I think
that if you look at my email volume, they disagree with decisions I make here or there,
they make their voices heard, but overall I think they’re very much in favor of what I’m
doing. Now, there's definitely, um, a ... a group of people who don't like what I'm doing,

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                    LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                        Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                           Podcast Title: No Regrets
                                  July 22, 2008

                                      TRANSCRIPT

um, and they want to fight me every step of the way. But I think those people are in the
minority.
JOHN MERROW: Community groups?
MICHELLE RHEE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Against you?
MICHELLE RHEE: Mm-hmm.
JOHN MERROW: What do they say?
MICHELLE RHEE: They say that I don’t involve the community, they say that I don’t
follow the rules, they say that I don’t, um, that I’m sort of just making decisions without
informing people,
JOHN MERROW: They say you’re not transparent, that you’re secretive.
MICHELLE RHEE: Yeah.
JOHN MERROW: Do you plead guilty to that?
MICHELLE RHEE: No. I’m very upfront and open. I mean, I’ll tell anybody at any
point, you know, sort of where we are. I think, again, it comes down to how decisions
are made at the end of the day. In a couple of instances, um, I have made a decision that
was counter to what the top recommendation of the, you know, community group was.
And, um ... uh, you know, people said, well, you didn't listen to us. And I said, no, I
listened to you, we're just not ... I'm not running this district by consensus or by
committee. Um, I'm taking into account all this information, and I'm going to decide at
the end of the day, um, you know, what ... what we're going to do. So, this isn't ... you
know, people are saying, well, you're ... you know, sort of circumventing the democratic
process. And we're not running this school district through the democratic process.
JOHN MERROW: It's not a democracy.
MICHELLE RHEE: No, it's not a democracy. Um, the way that ... that ... that the
democratic process played into, uh, my administration is that the voters of Washington,
DC, you know, said, yes, we want this man to come into office. Um, the city council
voted to, uh, move towards mayoral control. That's how the democratic process, um,
shaped where we are now. But we’re not gonna make every decision within this district
by taking a hand count.


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                   LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                       Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                          Podcast Title: No Regrets
                                 July 22, 2008

                                     TRANSCRIPT

JANE RENAUD: IN 2007, DC VOTERS DISSOLVED THE LOCAL SCHOOL
BOARD AND PUT THEN NEW MAYOR, ADRIAN FENTY IN CHARGE OF THE
SCHOOL SYSTEM. HIS FIRST ACT IN OFFICE WAS TO HIRE MICHELLE RHEE
TO RUN THE SCHOOLS. WE ASKED RHEE ABOUT THIS NEW SYSTEM OF
GOVERNMENT AND HOW HER RELATIONSHIP HAS FARED WITH THE
MAYOR AND WITH THE CITY COUNCIL.
JOHN MERROW: Are you a benevolent dictator?
MICHELLE RHEE: Am I a benevolent dictator? Maybe.
JOHN MERROW: Dictator’s okay?


MICHELLE RHEE: If by dictator you mean somebody who, at the end of the day, is
fully comfortable being held accountable for, you know, the results, and is gonna be
incredibly decisive about the direction that we’re heading in, then, yeah.
JOHN MERROW: Are you and Mayor Fenty still on the same page?
MICHELLE RHEE: Yes. A hundred percent.
JOHN MERROW: How often do you meet with him?
MICHELLE RHEE: We talk lots. Let’s see, I met with him one, two, three times a
week.
JOHN MERROW: Has he ever said no to you?
MICHELLE RHEE: No.
JOHN MERROW: Never.
MICHELLE RHEE: Nope.
JOHN MERROW: Do you expect he will, one of these days?
MICHELLE RHEE: I don’t know, I keep thinking probably at some point he will, but
he hasn’t done it yet. And I think that—I mean, today, we had the senior staff meeting
today. And something came up around the schools, and, and, uh, he’s like, “Yeah, okay,
make it happen.” And it was, you know, actually pretty substantial, what it was, and
people were looking around like, “Is that it? Is that all he’s gonna say?” You know, with
every other department and agency head he’s like, “Well, why,” and he’s delving in and

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                        6 e. 32 St., 8th Floor / New York, NY
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                    LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                        Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                           Podcast Title: No Regrets
                                  July 22, 2008

                                       TRANSCRIPT

with schools he’s just saying, “Okay, make it happen.” So, I couldn’t ask for more in a
boss.
JOHN MERROW: What is it like to work for somebody who has that much faith in you?
MICHELLE RHEE: It's actually very interesting. Um, part of the reason, you know,
when they ... when they first approached me about this job, I said no a couple of times.
And one of the reasons why I said no was because for the last ten years, I had been my
own boss. I ran ... I started The New Teacher Project. I ran it. I answered to myself.
Um, and one of the reasons that I thought I probably couldn't take this job was, I was like,
I can't have a boss. I haven't had a boss in ten years. I'm not so good at getting bossed
around. And I will say that, um, working under him has been an unbelievable
experience. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about leadership, I’ve regained a
tremendous amount of faith in politicians and what politicians can do. Um, he really is
just an unbelievably unique, um, individual overall, but ... I ... I don't think you can find a
politician like him almost anywhere else. I think he's just singularly tremendous.
JOHN MERROW: Now, what about the city council? What is your relationship with the
city council?
MICHELLE RHEE: Um, you know, I think generally my relationship with the city
council is good. I think that a lot of them feel sort of like they're in this no man's land of
... people are coming to us now because there's no school member to go to, and they have
all these questions, and we don’t want to be a school board, and, you know, what’s our
role. I have lots of conversations like that with city council members. I think that if you
look at the track record so far, um, they have been incredibly, uh, supportive, um, of what
I'm doing. And they've been very bold as a group in ... in ... um, approving some of the
legislation that we've introduced and some other things that ... um, you know, were tough
calls. And, you know, politicians, their job is different than mine. They have to listen to
their constituents and they have to sort of bend and sway. So, they have a job to do
themselves, and it’s a different job than mine.
JOHN MERROW: One of the, one of the, uh, some people say that the elephant in the
room, in Washington public schools and other public schools, is special education.
Special education absorbs a large percent of your budget…Are you going to tackle
special education next year?
MICHELLE RHEE: Yes.
JOHN MERROW: How?
MICHELLE RHEE: We are tackling special education, and it is a huge problem.

                                Learning Matters, Inc.
                                  nd
                        6 e. 32 St., 8th Floor / New York, NY
           212.725.7000 / news@learningmatters.tv / www.learningmatters.tv
                    LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                        Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                           Podcast Title: No Regrets
                                  July 22, 2008

                                      TRANSCRIPT

JOHN MERROW: Tell me what the problem is.
MICHELLE RHEE: Oy. Where to start? Um, we have multiple issues with special
education, but I will tell you that what the core of it is—and forget all the consent decrees
and the hearing officer decisions and how many we have and the court cases and all
that—the core, fundamental issue is that we do not have the capacity within the district
right now to serve our highest-need students, our most vulnerable students, well. And
that sort of causes the ripple of everything else that’s wrong.
JOHN MERROW: And so—do you have too many students classified as special
education?
MICHELLE RHEE: Yes.
JOHN MERROW: What do you do about that?
MICHELLE RHEE: Well, you know, we’re sort of tackling this from a systemic angle,
because—I’ll just give you one example—right now in the system, for a large majority of
our kids, they cannot receive the social services that they need, or there’s this perception
that they can’t get the social services that they need, unless they’re referred to special
education. So, the only way you can have access to a psychologist or a guidance
counselor or social worker is if the teacher refers you to special ed. So what we’re doing
is we’re bulking up our ability to provide those staff members at every single school—
JOHN MERROW: Without getting the label.
MICHELLE RHEE: Without getting the label. And to--well, but more importantly, from
a label or not, to provide those services to the students.
JOHN MERROW: Do you expect to have a, kind of a war when you tackle special
education?
MICHELLE RHEE: Yes.
JOHN MERROW: Tell me more.
MICHELLE RHEE: Well, there are a lot of people who are making a whole lot of
money off of the fact that the school district has for so long been dysfunctional on the
special education front. And when you start to impact peoples’ bottom line, they do not
react well. So, do I anticipate a full-on war with lots of different groups out there, on this
front, when we start to become more effective and more functional, absolutely.
JOHN MERROW: You’re ready for war.

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                        6 e. 32 St., 8th Floor / New York, NY
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                    LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                        Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                           Podcast Title: No Regrets
                                  July 22, 2008

                                      TRANSCRIPT

MICHELLE RHEE: Yes.
JOHN MERROW: Do you look forward to these battles?
MICHELLE RHEE: Yes. A hundred percent.
JOHN MERROW: Tell me more about that.
MICHELLE RHEE: ‘Cause this is doing kids wrong! The fact that we spend seventy-
four million dollars a year bussing four thousand kids through the school district means
that there’s a large pot of money that is not going into the schools and impacting the kids
day to day, in the classroom. That’s an injustice, as far as I’m con—we’re lining the
pockets of all of these, you know, law firms out there, instead of putting money into the
schools where it belongs. So kids are losing out every day because of these dynamics.
So, do I look forward to going to war to rectify all of this to make sure that every single
dollar that we spend on public education can be felt by the kids? Absolutely.
JOHN MERROW: So these folks know you’re coming. You’re not being subtle.
MICHELLE RHEE: Yes, they do. And they’re gonna fight. Hard.
JOHN MERROW: Do you worry that this particular special interest may just be too
tough?
MICHELLE RHEE: No.
JOHN MERROW: Not a glimmer of doubt?
MICHELLE RHEE: No. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be
a battle, it’s gonna be bloody—but at the end of the day, we’ll prevail.
JOHN MERROW: This is year one. Let’s imagine we’re sitting here a year from now,
at the end of year two. What measurable signs of success are you looking for at the end
of your second year?
MICHELLE RHEE: I would like to know that we are moving the needle on student
achievement. I think year one, you know, people say you can’t do anything in year one,
particularly if you come in on the time frame that I did, but by the end of year two, I
would expect to see that we are heading in the right direction, and I would expect to see,
when I walk into school—classrooms, I would expect to see some evidence of a shift in
the day-to-day practice of teachers.
JOHN MERROW: Those are subjective—this is what I see—what about stuff you can
measure.

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                    LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                        Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                           Podcast Title: No Regrets
                                  July 22, 2008

                                      TRANSCRIPT

MICHELLE RHEE: No, that was the first thing I said, was student achievement levels.
We’re only gonna see the real movement on the student achievement levels if there’s a
difference, day to day, in what people are doing in the schools.
JOHN MERROW: But aren’t there are other measures that the public could look at at the
end of your second year, like student attendance, teacher attendance, graduation rates?
MICHELLE RHEE: Yeah—well, graduation rates are tough because so many kids leave
after their freshman year. That’s the biggest time that we lose kids. So, next year’s
seniors—many of them, their dropout rate for that class may already largely be
determined. We would be looking at truancy rates, we would be looking at, um, uh,
things like, uh, discipline issues in the school. Um, we would be looking at, uh, whether
or not our ... our benchmark assessments are moving. Um, we'd be looking at a lot of
those things. Um, but ... the bottom line is ... that those are all indicators along the way.
They're means to the final end, which is the student achievement level, uh, are the ... are
the student achievement levels moving?
QUESTION: How long ... will it take before you can say, okay, student achievement ...
we're really making progress. Look at these achievement scores.
MICHELLE RHEE: Yeah.
QUESTION: How many years do you want us to be patient?
MICHELLE RHEE: Um, well, I don't think people should be patient very long.
(Laughs). Um, because like I said, think by year two we've got to be headed absolutely
in the right direction. Um, but based on what I've ... I've heard from other folks, I think
that what they've said is you see your biggest gains in years three, four and five. So,
that's what my expectation would be.
JOHN MERROW: How long will it take to make the kinds of structural changes that
will last when Michelle Rhee is not here?
MICHELLE RHEE: So ... I think that ... and the mayor and I have talked about this in
the past. We feel like two ... two Fenty terms ... will get us to the point where we feel
like the district has ... significantly transformed. Not just the learning outcomes. But the
structures and the infrastructure.
JOHN MERROW: Eight years.
MICHELLE RHEE: But when I say eight years, I mean to get us to the point where we
are ... you know, the highest performing urban school district in the country. And a
model for others to follow.

                                Learning Matters, Inc.
                                 nd
                        6 e. 32 St., 8th Floor / New York, NY
           212.725.7000 / news@learningmatters.tv / www.learningmatters.tv
                LEADERSHIP: A CHALLENGING COURSE
                    Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.
                       Podcast Title: No Regrets
                              July 22, 2008

                                 TRANSCRIPT

JANE RENAUD: MICHELLE RHEE IS THE 7TH SUPERINTENDENT OF DC
PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN 10 YEARS.
JOHN MERROW: Are you going to stay?
MICHELLE RHEE: That's my intention.
JANE RENAUD: WE’LL BE WATCHING WHAT HAPPENS IN OUR ONGOING
NEWSHOUR COVERAGE OF SCHOOL REFORM IN WASHINGTON DC. YOU
CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT CHANCELLOR RHEE, AND HEAR MORE
PODCASTS LIKE THIS ONE, BY VISITING OUT WEBSITE.
THIS PODCAST WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE GENEROUS SUPPORT FROM
THE ELI AND EDITH L. BROAD FOUNDATION AND THE ANNENBERG,
GATES, HEWLETT AND WALLACE FOUNDATIONS.
THIS PODCAST WAS PRODUCED BY SELLY THIAM AND CAT MCGRATH. I’M
JANE RENAUD. THANKS FOR LISTENING.




                              Learning Matters, Inc.
                            nd
                      6 e. 32 St., 8th Floor / New York, NY
         212.725.7000 / news@learningmatters.tv / www.learningmatters.tv

				
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