Q&A with Michelle Rhee: Part III

Part III

How do you stay fit? What do you do to relax?


I run on the treadmill after my daughters go to bed.

If you were to recommend one book to a D.C. high school student, what would it be?


Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C., by Harry S. Jaffe and Tom Sherwood.

Who has been your role model?

I have been fortunate to have a few strong role models. Personally, my parents are my role models. Professionally, Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York’s school system, has been a great mentor to me, and so has Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust.

What is your favorite quote on education?

I believe in the idea that public schools can be the “great equalizer” in this country, where if you do the right thing and go to school, do the work assigned, etc., you will have the same shot at the most competitive careers out there as any other kid in this country. This idea has been around since Horace Mann founded public education over 150 years ago. But in this country, it’s not happening yet. It’s starting to, but students can tell that the neighborhood they live in still very much determines the quality of education that a child receives. This is just so old and unfair, and not what I think America is about at all. We have to change it.

What inspired you to name your daughter Starr?

It’s a family name on her dad’s side.

What is it like being engaged to a former NBA player? Some people have speculated that you may leave your job to overcome the distance — are you considering this?

We don’t talk about basketball very much, actually! Kevin [Johnson] is doing incredibly important things as the mayor of Sacramento, and I got to know him through our work in education. He has a lot to accomplish in Sacramento and I have a lot to do here, so we’re going to stick to the bi-coastal relationship. The distance is not going to stop me from staying in D.C.!

How is DCPS addressing Mrs. Obama’s concerns about fighting childhood obesity? Are changes being made in the cafeterias or PE classes?

We are definitely on the same page as Mrs. Obama. In addition to the health risk that obesity poses for students, poor eating and exercise habits also present a learning risk. They both affect behavior and performance in school ─ not to mention the ways that people are discriminated against in the work world if they are obese. We actually started to work on this back in 2007, when we found that high school students weren’t eating the food in the cafeteria and were going to McDonald’s or other fast food chains instead. When I tried the food, I couldn’t blame them! So we decided to change food vendors and had students taste-test the food and help us pick the vendor, and now students are starting to choose our food more often. We also have some terrific pilot programs going on to bring freshly cooked food into schools and to give students healthy breakfasts — students who don’t eat breakfast are actually more likely to be overweight. Some of these initiatives have been covered in The Washington Post recently if you’d like more details.

Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.