POLITICS
09/15/2010 03:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor Of DC Public Schools, Discusses Future In The Wake Of Fenty Defeat (VIDEO)

As I mentioned last night, the big question hovering over last night's DC mayoral election -- in which current DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray defeated incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty -- is what's to become of Michelle Rhee, the polarizing Chancellor of the DC public school system. Rhee appeared on MSNBC this afternoon to talk about the future with Norah O'Donnell.

Asked if she felt that her reform efforts played a role in Fenty's defeat, Rhee was pretty blunt:

O'DONNELL: Let me ask you personally because a lot of people say that Mayor Fenty who took on the -- along with you took on -- along with you -- some of the teachers and the union in this that you were part of the reason he lost. What do you think about that?

RHEE: Well, I think without a doubt.

O'DONNELL: right.

RHEE: I just want to be real about this.

Prior to the election, Rhee sat down for an interview with DCist's Rachael Brown. Here's the pertinent part of that interview, on the subject of her post-primary future:

DCIST: You have implied that you would leave DCPS should Vincent Gray win the primary, and the Chairman has declined to speculate on whether he would want to continue to work with you. For you, under what circumstances would you stay should Gray become Mayor? What kinds of commitment or agreement about the direction of school reform would the two of you have to reach?

RHEE: I have to be careful on this, because I've been accused of violating the Hatch Act, so I really can't elaborate, you know...All I can do, which is not going to be helpful for you, is reiterate what I've said a million times, which is what I need in a boss, in general, separate from this election. I really can't say more than that.

DCIST: Are there any issues or policy positions that for you would be deal breakers?

RHEE: Say that a different way.

DCIST: What would be a dealbreaker, in any setting?

RHEE: Well, like what I've said before, the only reason we've been able to accomplish everything that we have and we've been able to move as far as we have is because we've had the unequivocal support of the Mayor. And this is not easy stuff, when you're talking about closing down schools, and restructuring schools, and removing ineffective staff members -- that's not easy or fun stuff. It's not something that I enjoy, causing this kind of disruption. But at the same time, they are necessary things that have to happen in order for us to believe that kids are going to get a good education. And so if you look at it from the political side of things, and it's making a lot of people upset -- well, it's making a lot of adults upset -- if that's the kind of thinking that's going to drive our decisions then I'm not going to be the most effective leader to have.

For me, one of the things that the Mayor and I have in common, one of the things that has driven so much of our work together is that fact that when faced with decisions, even if it's going to make a lot of adults unhappy, if it's the right thing for kids and we know it's going to result in better schools for our children, then we're going to make that decision. And when you add in the component of people who have agendas where decisions need to be made on keeping people happy, keeping all the adults happy, well then there's probably a better leader who can fill that role.

Today, Rhee -- who called Fenty "truly the best leader I have ever worked for" -- told O'Donnell that she was not "demoralized" by last night's results, but didn't say either way whether she was planning on staying, only that she was looking forward to meeting with Vincent Gray, (who will easily win election in November, barring some sort of unprecedented, titanic disaster).

It should be noted that O'Donnell is a DC resident with deep roots in the community and the mother of three young children, so the interview is somewhat colored by the fact that she is a potential stakeholder in the future of DC's public schools, and is clearly a Rhee proponent.

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O'DONNELL: Nationally people are looking at the outcome of this mayoral primary and saying this is a setback for national education reform. Do you agree?

RHEE: I don't think it has to be at all. I think that reformers across the country knew when the mayor and I took these aggressive reforms on it was going to be really difficult and that there was going to be a tremendous amount of opposition to the very difficult decisions that we were making and so I think if anything people should see this and understand how hard the work is and that we have to fight all the harder to make sure that we're doing right by our kids.

O'DONNELL: I know how strongly you feel about that, that's why you're willing to tackle what are some of the really hard issues that exist out there. Will you stay?

RHEE: Well, I think that obviously yesterday was a -- it was a significant change in direction. And it's going to require me sitting down with Mayor Fenty, with the chairman and lots of other people the sort of determine what we think is right for the school district and best for our kids.

O'DONNELL: Do you expect that Vincent Gray will ask you to stay?

RHEE: I can't make any speculations about that. But i'm looking forward to sitting down with the chairman.

O'DONNELL: Let me ask you personally because a lot of people say that Mayor Fenty who took on the -- along with you took on -- along with you -- some of the teachers and the union in this that you were part of the reason he lost. What do you think about that?

RHEE: Well, I think without a doubt.

O'DONNELL: right.

RHEE: I just want to be real about this. As I talk to people throughout the city, as I heard -- watched the news and heard what people said, a lot of times people go out and say, well, why don't you support the mayor? People say, well, because he was closing down schools or he was firing teachers and it was on the top of people's minds and it certainly was something I think that cost him some political capital over the last three and a half years.

O'DONNELL: Because there are many people that look now at what's happened in the primary and know you and the efforts that you have made to try to reform the education system and said you know what? The people get what they deserve then, which is a nasty thing I think to say about that. But I mean, what is it then? Was it a failure to communicate what you were doing? Were the changes so quick, so tough that people didn't understand? What was it?

RHEE: You know, I think that the reforms that we tried to put in place and the pace at which we did so were really unprecedented and we didn't know coming in the impact that it was going to have.

O'DONNELL: You were firing teachers.

RHEE: Yes, absolutely.

O'DONNELL: You were closing schools.

RHEE: Absolutely. We were doing it at a clip that nobody had ever done it at before and I think that if anything I hope that education reformers across the country can learn from the experiences that we have had here in DC.

O'DONNELL: This comes, of course, just as the new movie is premiering, Waiting For Superman which is about reforming our education system here in the United States. I want to play a clip from that in which you're featured.

[VIDEO CLIP]

RHEE: You wake up every morning and you know that kids are getting really a crappy education right now.

OFF CAMERA: You think most of the kids here are getting a crappy education right now?

RHEE: I don't think they are. I know they are.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

O'DONNELL: And, you know, it is hard and it's moving to sort of say we know kids are getting a crappy education, and yet, does it demoralize you at all knowing that all you have done, that the person that helped you champion and put you in this place to do that has now been rejected by the people who live here?

RHEE: I -- that's a great question. I mean, and I do -- do feel sort of somewhat bad and guilty. I mean, this man -- Adrian Fenty is truly the best leader I have ever worked for and he is literally only politician that I have ever met who operated in a way that -- where he said, you know, politics aside, we'll always make decisions in the best interests of kids. And, the fact that we didn't do as good of a job as I think we could have in communicating sort of why we were making the decisions we did that sort of led people to be suspicious of the actions, et cetera, I think is unfortunate. but at the same time, what I'm very clear about is that we need more leaders like him who are willing to stake everything to make sure that kids are getting a great education.

O'DONNELL: Right. well, I hope that you're not demoralized and I think that a lot people that are rooting for our kids and understand change and people hoping there's a way you and Vincent Gray can meet over lunch and he can beg you to stay or you can beg him to keep you because our kids don't deserve a crappy education and do you hope that this change, too, could affect change?

RHEE: Absolutely. And I don't feel demoralized at all. I, you know, feel for the mayor, and the position that he is now in. But I don't want anyone to sort of take --

O'DONNELL: Will the film affect change?

RHEE: Absolutely. I think that without a doubt when America goes to watch this movie, they will just be heartbroken and when they see firsthand what's happening to children across the nation in our public schools and hopefully it will spur them on to action.

O'DONNELL: All right. well Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the DC Public School system, great to talk to you as always and hope to see you more of you.

RHEE: Absolutely, thanks.

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