Thursday, February 4, 2010
Visionary Leadership - What Does It Look Like?
From the DeKalb Neighbor newspaper
As part of The Galloway School’s speaker series to celebrate the Buckhead school’s 40th anniversary, Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools, spoke to the Galloway community about her experiences last week.
“Coming out and having people clap is a nice change of pace,” said Ms. Rhee of the applauding welcome as she took the stage.
Learning it is OK not to be liked was one of the lessons she shared with the crowd.
“If your goal is to make everyone happy, you will never get anywhere,” she said. “You have to make the decisions somewhere in the middle.”
After she was appointed chancellor in June 2007, she began shaking up what was the poorest performing school district in the country with some drastic changes that made her not liked among public officials in Washington.
She recounted the challenges she faced in the form of public and political opposition to changing central office employees to at-will employees and closing schools to better distribute funds.
“We were right. For the first time we ensured that every single school had an art teacher, a music teacher, a physical education coach and a school nurse,” she said, speaking of how the school closures helped the district. “Sometimes you’ve got to make the hard decisions because you know where you’re going to end up before everyone else does.”
She summed up her observations of how politics had corrupted the school system to the extreme disadvantage to the students.
“We as adults for far too long have turned a blind eye to what the reality of what’s happening to kids in classrooms in the name of harmony amongst adults,” she said.
Courage to stand up to the politics, she said, is what her city and school district as well as the rest of the country need to pull the education system back up.
“We are in the financial crisis in this city and in this country today because of the irresponsibility of adults. We are not going to make up for this on the backs of children,” she said, retelling what Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said in defense of not cutting the school system budget.
Galloway Head of School Tom Brereton said he was personally inspired by Ms. Rhee’s talk to be more courageous and out-front.
“I’m encouraged to continue to raise this school up to find excellence,” he said. “I think we should leave here tonight having hope that the educational opportunities for kids in Washington will be improved for tomorrow.”
Click here to watch the video of her speech.