Some may find this strange, but today I reached out to DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee by email, her preferred form of communication (according to this Time article, she answered 95,000 emails in her first year as Chancellor!). I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response within an hour. She’s the real thing, really.
To explain how events transpired–how it came to be that I found myself typing up an email to her–the first week of school is nearly over and I still do not have a placement (as of this afternoon, I am one of five unplaced DC CMs). As a result, I have lots of “idle time”–time in which I technically have nothing to do but feel as stressed as someone who has everything to do. Anyways, I decided to use some of this idle time to peruse the revamped DCPS website for interesting tidbits–press releases, DCPS data, anything that might tell me more about DC schools. Along the way, I stumbled across the “Chancellor’s Notes” section. Curious, I read one. And then another. And then all of them. They were magical.
Basically, Chancellor Rhee personally writes these notes, on about a monthly basis, on topics of relevance to the DCPS community (e.g. “excellent teaching,” “summer learning,” or “test scores”). Although many good leaders without a doubt write updates to interested parties as often as she does, I think there are some things about her notes that are special. Not only do they reveal much about the seriousness with which she takes on her role as Chancellor of the school district in our nation’s capital, but they also contain three attributes that I deeply value.
- Inspiration: Chancellor Rhee writes to inspire. In her notes, she highlights anecdotes that critics would find unbelievable. In one of her notes, she explains how her annual meeting with her “Student Cabinet” proves that, aside from the many other parties interested in improving DC schools, there are plenty of students who are itching to take their own stakes in the reform process.
- Honesty: Chancellor Rhee writes candidly. Alongside these stunning and inspirational stories, she humbly outlines the grim reality of the school situation here in the District. For instance, she writes about what “keeps her up at night“: the sobering facts that 8% and 12% of DC’s eighth graders are proficient in math and reading, respectively. She would rather reveal the (shocking) truth than sugar-coat or distort it to please others. We need to face reality in order to fix it.
- Informativeness: Chancellor Rhee writes to enlighten. More importantly, she enlightens by using data (test scores, demographics, etc.) and statistics rather than cryptic generic statements. Her note on “equalization” helped me understand my own situation–that is, why, exactly, I am still unplaced even though I was told that there were vacancies in the DCPS system last Thursday. So here’s an interesting stat: during the 2008-2009 school year, only 14% of parents had enrolled their students in schools by August 1! (Note: it appears that in DC parents must re-enroll their students each year. I am told that in most school districts, re-enrollment is automatic.) With so much uncertainty over enrollment numbers, the DCPS may not know where to place teachers until much later than the first day of school. That (partially) explains why I am still jobless even though I am on the payroll. More generally, though, Chancellor Rhee so eloquently describes and assesses the current state of educational affairs here in DC that she makes the mission that has yet to be accomplished all the more apparent and urgent.
In short, she writes from the heart. Her wisdom, her thoughts, her concerns–all of it pours out of her heart, translates itself into electronic text, and gets published on her section of the DCPS website. It’s beautiful.
This is kind of nerdy, but in my email, I mentioned how I found her notes almost as impressive as Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders. Let it be known that Warren Buffett is one of my idols. However, as someone who has personally met the Oracle of Omaha (on my 20th birthday, no less!) and who has been reading his annual letters each year–as if they were the latest chapters in the Harry Potter saga–I need to be looking at something truly special if it is to even come close to Warren Buffett’s impressiveness. Chancellor Rhee’s notes fit those criteria. I suggest you read them yourself!
Anyways, I think I’ve mentioned this before–and it should be plainly obvious now: I look up to Michelle Rhee as a role model. As a TFA alum who has gone on to do great things, she is, rightly, an inspiration to me. Furthermore, as a fellow Korean-American who has shown–and continues to show–immense leadership skills, she is someone that I can’t not look up to. Most importantly, however, her belief that all students can achieve–that hard work can and will take students to places they never thought they could go–is why I most look up to her. She’s the real deal.
Back to the email, however. the gist of my message was praise for all the work she has been doing in the District (I don’t want to share the specifics of the email more than I already have, lest I embarrass myself further!). In other words, I was just thanking her, and just “saying hello” (as she beckoned in a letter to DCPS educators dated March 13, 2009)–no more, no less.
I also enjoyed the words of encouragement that Chancellor Rhee provided in her response. In my email, I did mention that I was still unplaced and that I was anxiously awaiting an assignment. I’ll end my post with the last line of her email:
“BTW, don’t fret, I was the second to last to be placed at a school when I was in the corps… MR”
Reassuring words, indeed… I have fingers crossed that tomorrow I will be placed and this ordeal will end (and the new ordeal will begin).