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January 23, 2008

Fenty’s Solution

Dear Bullpen:

All right, bullpen, here's the problem. I got to take over the schools because I said that the school board and Superintendent Janey were moving too slowly, and I promised that I could deliver quick results, that students' education would improve rapidly. We all know that that isn't going to happen, so we have to keep people from blaming us when it doesn't. If they ever get on to us, we'll lose control of the schools' real estate and construction contracts, and we can't let that happen. We have four things going for us. First, nobody on the city council will confront us, because not one of them has a spine. They'll grumble that Michelle and I disrespect them by making all our decisions unilaterally, but the truth is they're really glad that we don't consult them. They used to blame the school board for all the schools' problems and excuse themselves by saying they didn't have any control. When Michelle and I keep them out of the decision loop, they'll showboat and make indignant speeches about us for the benefit of the public, but they won't cross us. They'll be happy as long as at the end of the day they can use the same excuse, that they don't have any control over the schools so people shouldn't blame them. Second, the press is on our side. It just loves Michelle, and it's not going to do any serious investigative reporting about her hiring practices, about what we do with the closed schools, or about whether she produces any educational improvement. You just have to read Jo-Ann Armao's hagiography last month [] or Marc Fisher's uncritical apology for her this week [] to see that these people are committed. Third, I have a lot of faithful supporters. They'll claim that I never even made a promise to get quick results, and some people will believe them. 

But the fourth point is the most important one. We have a natural fall guy to blame when it becomes evident that we're not performing any better than the school board. Michelle is already starting to lower expectations, saying that it will take up to eight years to put the system into good shape. But after two or three years, people will ask why Michelle isn't doing any better than Janey, why her new hires aren't any more effective than the people she fired. The Post poll that David Nakamura and Jennifer Agiesta reported on Monday [] shows us the way out. The bad news is that people who have children in the public schools are already on to us; the poll shows that only 39 percent of them approve of what we're doing. But the public as a whole still approves of what Michelle's doing by 59 percent, and of what I'm doing by 68 percent; don't ask me why they give us different scores. If you take public school parents out of that group, it means that people who don't have children in the schools approve of us by an even wider margin. All we have to do is divide the people who are childless, or who wouldn't send their children to DC public schools under any circumstances, from the people who do send their children to public schools. We just convince the general public, who wouldn't have anything to do with the public schools, that the problem with the schools isn't management; it isn't the people who run the schools; it isn't us. The problem with the schools is the parents who send their children to public schools. After all, if they're irresponsible and reckless enough to trust their children to DC's public schools, they can't be any good. How can we be expected to educate their children? Luckily, over the past decades the percentage of people with children in the public schools has fallen so low that they don't have much political power. We'll play to the rest, who don't have children, can afford to send their children to private schools, or who'll move out of the city when their children are old enough to go to school. We'll convince them that the low-class people who send their kids to public schools just produce problem children who are impossible to educate. How can they blame us when our plans don't work? Parents are the problem. Face it, bull penners, I'm brilliant. 

Gary Imhoff


Ballou School Shootings
Ralph J. Chittams, Sr., Ward 7,

Why the shootings at Ballou? An ongoing feud between Condon Terrace and Barry Farms, that's why. Now, Rhee and Fenty, et al., insist that closing and consolidating schools will not have an adverse impact. Really? Children are getting shot every week because of neighborhood rivalries. Forcing rival neighborhoods into one school is only going to increase the incidents of violence and result in more injuries and deaths. I wish this were not true. I wish we all could get along. But as long as this situation remains as it is, pushing these students together in an enclosed space is going to be catastrophic.

I have spoken with teens and asked the question of what we can we do to stop this. Their answer: nothing. That is a sad commentary. They believe that there is nothing that can change this dynamic. They say it is a behavior that younger generations learn from the older generations. They have accepted this as normal. The teens with whom I have spoken at not gang bangers, they are not drug dealers, they are neither miscreants nor malcontents; they are law abiding kids who go to school every day and stay out of trouble. If they have given up hope that things will get better, I can only imagine the hopelessness felt by those who call the streets their home.

I am not as hopeless. I believe if people have a reason to live, they will not be so cavalier about dying; if people value their own lives, they will not take another's so easily. While school consolidations may provide a financial boon to the District, that boon will be bought with coffins and wheelchairs. If the school consolidations occur, the funds obtained should be used inside the affected communities to provide hope where there is no hope. The empty buildings should be used to provide community health and community education endeavors (e.g., adult literacy, GED preparation, and computer skills). While this will not immediately end the violence which is going to occur with school consolidations, it will lay a foundation that can end this violence with this generation. The man who feels he has nothing to lose also has nothing to gain. Hope must be given to the hopeless and possibilities must be shown to those who have given up. 


Parental Involvement
Ed T Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

It has been concluded (accurately), by the wise persons running the schools now, that parental involvement is necessary if the schools will be able to educate their students. Parental involvement does play a major role in the amount of interest that students take in their studies. Just take a look at two very successful schools in northwest DC that I am familiar with, Janney and Key elementary. Both have outstanding parental involvement between parents and their children in the educational process and also parental participation in school activities. To get this involvement in those schools in poor neighborhoods will be almost impossible for a variety of reasons. Thus it will be essential, if the educational processes are to work better, to find an alternative to parental involvement for those areas where the real parents, or parent, cannot or will not be involved in the education of their children. The school system should begin development of a recruiting program to enlist an army of “big brothers” and “big sisters” to act as mentors and tutors for those children who cannot get help from home. This will require a major after school program of an hour or two every school day or weekend activities. One-on-one contact directly with under performing students will make a major difference in the success of educating children who don't have parental involvement. Businesses in DC and adults without children in the school should be heavily recruited for this program. The benefit of the end results will more than justify the costs.


Will Google Be Purchasing the Washington Post?
Phil Shapiro,

Considering that major city newspapers continue their spiraling decline, it makes sense that some larger company take them over before they nosedive into the ground. I was thinking about the possibility of Google purchasing the Washington Post when I came across this blog posting about the possibility of Google purchasing the New York Times,

Maybe it makes sense to pick up both properties during a Memorial Day sale — two for the price of one. I'm of the view that such a purchase would be good for everyone. Our community could bypass all the trauma that's happening at the Los Angeles Times, which has gone through three managing editors in as many years. There's light at the end of the tunnel, but current newspaper managers can't get us to that light. They possess too much tunnel vision. Their prospective new owners are the best hope of breaking the death spiral. 


And You Think It's Crowded on the Streets Downtown
Ed T Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Just back from more than two weeks in South America, where roomie and I went to Magdalena Island off the coast of Chile. At this time of year this small island is occupied by more that 140,000 penguins. They are all over the place raising their newly born chicks, covered with gray fuzz. It's like “Happy Feet” without the dancing. All the hustle and bustle reminded me of downtown DC.

Missed the debacle about the four children who died under the care, or lack of care, from their own mother. These tragedies can be obviated by having a much more proactive approach to investigating cases by the welfare agencies. Unfortunately it takes “a village.” Communities and neighborhoods need to watch out for the people who live in neighborhoods. I grew up in Brooklyn and can attest that people in neighborhoods, even to this day there, watch out for their neighbors. That's missing here in DC.


Home Schooling in DC
Peter Orvetti,

I received a couple of messages regarding my recent posting about home schooling [themail, January 16], so I want to clarify my concerns. My real concern is not about having to register our intent to home school with the District, which just seems to be common sense. My concern is that the Jacks incident may lead to a call to revive the 1991 proposals, which would be very unfortunate. Apart from the issues of constitutionality raised by the Home School Legal Defense Association and others, notions like unannounced visits by District government inspectors can lead to misinterpretations of a family's methods. 

We may have a break time at 11:00 a.m. one day and 2:00 p.m. the next, or be out at a museum all day, or devote a morning to something fun and the early evening to educational activities. A city inspector's popping in at the wrong time would present the wrong idea. My wife used to teach at a Quaker school; a similar unannounced visit could give the idea that the students sit around in a circle in dead silence all day. A random visit to a Waldorf school, revealing children at work with brooms, might seem more like a child labor law violation than the exercise of an educational philosophy.


Like, Who Cares?
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Bill Coe replied [themail, January 13], regarding Michelle Rhee' s style of language, “. . . she was caught in an informal exchange with a reporter and spoke like the relatively young person she is.” That “informal exchange” is called an interview, a for-the-public-record event with which someone in her position should be familiar.

She may be relatively young to Bill and me (though relatively older than the children she's paid to educate) but she still might have realized that she was speaking for a broad audience and forced herself to use grownup-speak, even if it's a foreign language to her.

If she didn't realize how she sounded, didn't care, or thought it's acceptable when dealing on-the-job, on-the-record, with adults — what's she doing running a school system? How can DC English teachers convince students to use correct language when the school system leader speaks that way?


Comcast Problems
Beverly Simmons,

Ironically, my long failure to receive the deleted Comcast channels was resolved today, when a supervisor hooked my televisions to the promised black boxes, as well as arranging for the signals to kick in. This had been an ongoing problem since October and then November, when AMC disappeared, and subsequently TCM and other channel losses occurred. Endless telephone calls with interminable waiting times to connect with Comcast failed to communicate the problem. On January 20, after a six-hour wait for a scheduled service call, the technician was unable to get a signal to the box, which he then removed. Yesterday, January 21, a supervisor arrived at noon, fixed the reception problem, hooked up the boxes. and indicated this should have been done by the two previous technicians. He was first-rate and skilled, and spent three hours to achieve a good result. At last, after months of waiting. Many Comcast employees were sympathetic and happy to schedule visits by technicians. (I found the only time to reach anyone at Comcast easily is after 1:00 a.m. They are very helpful then.) However, the problem was never fully explained or communicated to the service technicians. 


Parking Ticket Black Hole
Bob Levine, 

[Re: Jamie Treworgy, themail, January 20] If you were at a red light, with your car in gear and your foot on the brake, rather than pulled over with your car in park, you were guilty of driving while talking on a cell phone. Pay the fine, stop driving stupidly, and get over it.



Free Civil War Lecture/Book Signing, January 26
Jerry McCoy,

Author Marc Leepson will discuss Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Battle Saved Washington, DC, and Changed American History, about the 1864 Battle of Monocacy Junction and the Confederate Army's push towards Washington, DC, with an overnight stop in downtown Silver Spring. The cost of the book is $26.00, cash or check only. 

Leepson is also the author of Saving Monticello: The Levy Family's Quest to Rescue the House That Jefferson Built and Flag: An American Biography. This free lecture is sponsored by the Silver Spring Historical Society and will be held at the historic 1945 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station, 8100 Georgia Avenue (at Sligo Avenue), in downtown Silver Spring, MD, on Saturday, January 26, at 2:00 p.m. If you've never been inside the award-winning restored station, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this would be a great opportunity to experience the interior.


Got a Complaint about Verizon?, February 2, 7
Mackenzie Baris,

Have you been frustrated by recurrent problems with your phone or Internet service? Do you lose service every time it rains? Have you had problems with overcharging? Tell us about it! Take our on-line survey about your Verizon service at We'll be compiling the results to share with the DC council during their public hearings on the quality of service provided by Verizon and other utilities. 

These hearing are being held by Councilmember Mary Cheh and the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs and will take place on Thursday, February 7 at 10 a.m. and Saturday, February 9 at 11 a.m. This is a chance to let elected officials know how you feel about your utility services. To sign up to testify, contact Aukima Benjamin at 724-8062 or You are also invited to a free workshop to help prepare testimony for the hearings. Saturday, February 2, at 2:30 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 222 8th Street, NE. RSVP to


League of Women Voters on Election Reform, February 13
Elinor Hart,

Hear the latest on election reform, Wednesday, February 13, 11:00 a.m., 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, sixth floor. What are the current issues? What is being done by Congress, Leagues of Women Voters, and states? Speakers: Doug Chapin, Director of, which provides up-to-the-minute news and analysis on election reform; Jeanette Senecal, Director of Elections and e-Democracy for the League of Women Voters of the United States. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia.



Legal Secretary
April Goldstein,

The Washington office of a major international law firm is seeking a legal secretary for its international arbitration and litigation group. Job responsibilities include providing legal secretarial support to partner and associate(s), typing correspondence and other documents, interacting professionally with clients and other persons via telephone and in-person meetings, and coordination of travel and meeting arrangements. The successful candidate will have three to five years experience as a legal secretary, preferably at the partner/senior associate level; be highly professional with strong customer service and organizational skills; and be proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as advanced functions will be used regularly. Must have excellent typing and proofreading skills and be an independent thinker with ability to multitask in a deadline driven environment. Bilingual candidates encouraged to apply. Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP offers a competitive salary and benefits package including a thirty-five-hour work week. Please send cover letter, resume, and salary history to or fax to 862-1093, attn: April Goldstein.


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