D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Chicago schools CEO Ron Huberman attend a meeting at the White House in this March 2009 photo.
With Ron Huberman set to step down as CEO of Chicago Public Schools before the end of the school year, could D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee—who is likely to leave her post in the near future—be a good fit for the job?
The most famous urban schools chief in the country, Rhee—whose brash approach to her job may have cost the re-election of her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty—has taken a sledgehammer to the District’s teachers and their union, closing down 21 schools and firing 241 teachers, 165 of them evaluated as the worst in the system. The betting is that since 39-year-old Fenty—an African American politician often compared to Barack Obama who appointed her and gave her the freedom to shake the D.C. schools system to its rotten foundation—lost in the primary, Rhee will not stick around for Fenty’s successor. The mayor-to-be—winning the primary in D.C. is tantamount to winning the election on November 2nd—is 67-year-old D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, a more conventional politician. Rhee, 40, said repeatedly while campaigning for Fenty that she could not see herself working for Gray.
This week, the Sun-Times reported that Chicago’s schools chief Huberman intends to leave his job before Mayor Daley leaves office in mid-May. Huberman’s departure, which is likely to happen in the middle of the school year, would mean that a temporary schools CEO would take over until the new mayor appoints a new CPS chief.
I asked announced mayoral candidate Gery Chico, a former president of the CPS board, what he thought of Rhee as Huberman’s replacement. He declined to comment about her on the record, instead suggesting that he’d consider bringing back Paul Vallas, who ran the schools here while Chico was board president. Chico said he has not discussed the matter with Vallas, a senior adviser to Chico’s campaign, but said pointedly that Vallas “has a great set of political attributes that allowed him to be able to relate to people.”
Asked his assessment of Huberman, who just lost a federal lawsuit challenging his own layoffs of 749 tenured teachers, Chico said, “I thank [him] for his very strong work ethic and dedication to working on the Chicago public school system, and I’ll leave it at that.”
A call to mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel yielded the following via his temporary press secretary: “Obviously the most important thing is to focus on our schools and our kids. In the last few days as I’ve crisscrossed our city, I heard concerns about our schools in every community I visited. We need strong leadership out of the Mayor’s Office and Chicago Public Schools to make reform happen.”
Photograph: Chicago Tribune