Travels from California, USA
Michelle Rhee's speaking fee falls
within range: $30,000 to $50,000
As a third grade teacher in Baltimore, a member of Teach for America and the founder of StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee has spent the last 18 years working to provide children with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in a changing world. Guided by her core principle: put students first, Michelle has added instructional time after school, visited students’ homes, hosted hundreds of community meetings and created a Youth Cabinet to bring students’ voices into reforming the D.C. Public Schools.
In 1997, Michelle founded The New Teacher Project, which works to bring more excellent teachers to classrooms across the country. In 2007, Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Michelle to lead the District of Columbia Public Schools as Chancellor. Under her leadership, what was once the worst performing school district in the country became the only major city system to see double-digit growth in both their state reading and math scores. Currently, Michelle serves on the Advisory Boards for the National Council on Teacher Quality, the National Center for Alternative Certification and Project REACH of the University of Phoenix’s School of Education.
In August 2014, Rhee replaced Jim Scheible as chair of St. Hope Public Schools, a charter school chain run by her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and subsequently announced that she would be stepping down as CEO of StudentsFirst.
Michelle is from Toledo, Ohio. She graduated from Cornell University in 1992, and went on to join Teach for America. She subsequently spent three years as a teacher at Harlem Park Elementary in Baltimore, Md. Through trial and error in the classroom, she gained a tremendous respect for the hard work that teachers do every day and realized the incredibly powerful and positive role teachers can have in helping kids grow.
Michelle went on to earn her Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, after which she launched The New Teacher Project. The nonprofit seeks to bring great teachers to all classrooms in America. As Chief Executive Officer and President, Michelle partnered with school districts, state education agencies, other nonprofits and unions to transform the way schools and other organizations recruit, select and train highly qualified teachers.
In 2007, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Michelle to be the city’s schools chancellor. Under her leadership, the district and the teachers union approved a groundbreaking contract that dramatically reformed how D.C. schools operate. Michelle also streamlined the system’s central office, freeing up more resources to go to classrooms. Students in D.C. experienced academic success and growth under Michelle’s leadership. Graduation rates rose, as did enrollment – something that had not occurred in 40 years.
In December 2010, Michelle launched StudentsFirst, which is a national bipartisan grassroots organization aimed at making sure all kids have access to great teachers and great schools. The organization promotes policies in our schools that put the interests of children ahead of any others. In its first year, StudentsFirst helped change over 50 education policies in half a dozen states impacting the education of millions of students. StudentsFirst is based in Sacramento.
In this presentation at the California Charter Schools Association, Michelle opens by telling a story about a conversation she had with her husband after he delivered the keynote speech the night before. She says she told him she was worried that she didn’t have enough material to cover 20 minutes. His reply was, “You know you never don’t talk enough.” Michelle adds that she and her husband have been married for 18 months, and that he was single for 46 years before that. “I realized with that comment that he has learned a tremendous amount about being a husband in this 18 months,” she jokes, “because that was a husbandly way of saying, ‘Baby, you talk too much!’”
Michelle goes on to some insight from a mentor of hers named Joel Klein, who recommended her to be Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. She says that Joel called her one night to give her two pieces of advice. The first piece of advice was that she should “go out and get” a boyfriend because “this is the loneliest job that a person could possibly have.” The second piece of advice was, “You have to lead from the front.” Michelle explains that she realized what Joel meant a few weeks later “If you get caught up and mired in the muck… and you lose sight of the fact that, as a leader, sometimes you have to make decisions that other people can’t see… you have to be willing to take the lead spot in that,” she says.
Michelle believes that students of every background and zip code can achieve at high levels, and that every educator must believe this for our schools to become what children deserve. She believes that even in the toughest circumstances, all teachers are called to turn the incredible potential that fills their classrooms daily into achievements worthy of our children and our country. With these principles in mind, Michelle inspires and empowers educators to be leaders in their community and bring the best out of their students to create the leaders of tomorrow.
StudentsFirstEach chapter of Michelle′s story has convinced her: students of every background and ZIP code can achieve at high levels, and for our schools to become what children deserve, every educator is called to believe this. Even in the toughest of circumstances, all teachers are called to turn the incredible potential that fills their classrooms daily, into the achievements worthy of our children and country.
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