Michelle Rhee resigning, sources say (video)

This story has been updated.

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Michelle Rhee, after a meeting with presumptive mayor-elect Vince Gray, weeks before she announced she was quitting.
(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Michelle Rhee is quitting.

Rhee, the lightning rod of a D.C. Public Schools chancellor who often garnered national praise while also drawing local ire, is set to announce her resignation at a press conference Wednesday, multiple sources said. She is expected to appear at a mid-morning event with D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray, the presumptive mayor-elect, at the Mayflower Hotel.

Rhee’s resignation was first reported by the Washington Post and The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder.

According to the Post, deputy schools chancellor Kaya Henderson is set to step in for Rhee as the head of school system, which has previously been regarded as one of the most troubled in the nation.

At-Large D.C. Councilmember David Catania was pleased that Henderson would be taking Rhee's place, calling Henderson “enormously capable.”

Gray has said that he would not make personnel decisions until after the general election, though the question of Rhee’s status within his administration has long dogged the candidate. He has said that education reform should be bigger than him, incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty, or Rhee, and he has sidestepped specific questions about continuing her tenure.

"We're not going to be turning back any clocks," Gray said at a press conference the day after defeating Fenty in the Democratic mayoral primary in September. "On school reform, we're moving full speed ahead."

On the campaign trail, Gray’s consistent refusal to say whether he would keep Rhee, along with the chancellor’s open support of Fenty, might have made matters worse. The day after the election, she told a crowd that the outcome of the election was “devastating” for D.C. schoolchildren, a comment she later clarified, saying they were never intended as an insult to Gray. In the immediate aftermath of the election, rumors swirled that her resignation was imminent.

Some councilmembers, however, had pushed the presumptive mayor to keep Rhee for a short period of time to ensure a smooth transition. Some were dismayed by the announcement of her departure last night.

“You don't just abandon children,” Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh said Tuesday night. “I thought this was supposed to be about the children. We will go on and we will go on well, but this does not reflect well on her.”

Rhee did not immediately respond to an e-mail sent Tuesday night. A campaign spokeswoman for Fenty failed reelection bid also remained coy on the details.

Shortly before 8 p.m., Ambinder tweeted: "Michelle Rhee, DC schools superintendent, set to resign tomorrow. Rhee's a heroine to one branch of ed reform movement and villain to others."

He continued: "Rhee is headed to another major school district or into the Obama administration, which has promoted her work."

The schools chancellor, whose efforts are featured on the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” has made a few appearances of late with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has said has said he supports Rhee’s work. Another Rhee fan: Oprah Winfrey. Rhee made an appearance on her show and was hailed as a “warrior woman.”

Rhee, who campaigned for Fenty as a private citizen during the primary, told the Post this summer that it would be difficult to continue her work without the backing of a mayor like Fenty, and strongly suggested she wouldn't be able to continue with her reform efforts in a Gray administration.

"You can do school reform in lots of ways," Rhee said at the time. "You can have more incremental changes. If that's the way that a city decided to go, I probably would not be the best person for that. There are probably people that are better suited toward that different sort of tack."

Rhee, a darling of the education reform movement whom Fenty plucked to run the District’s schools from the New Teacher Project, has pushed D.C. public schools through a tumultuous overhaul, marked by bitter battles with the teachers union and controversial school closings and personnel decisions that left some parents, teachers and administrators confused or hurt. But her work won her some national praise, and under her watch the District did land coveted federal funding from the competitive Race to the Top grant program.

A split between Gray and Rhee, who often sparred during council meetings, was expected after Fenty’s primary loss. The two met late last month for a highly anticipated summit at Gray’s offices in the Wilson Building, a summit from which Rhee emerged looking shaken. She deferred her comments to Gray, who said that no decisions had been made about her future.

"This was not a decision-making meeting, he said. "This was an opportunity for the chancellor and I to have a conversation broadly about public education in the city."

When asked when members of the public would know when or if Rhee would be leaving the school system or staying through the school year, Gray said, "We don't know ourselves, right?"

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