That’s Right Nate

Thoughts from a right thinker.

Catching Up With Michelle Rhee

with 9 comments

Yes, it’s one of those Michelle Rhee articles and I’m trying to figure out where to begin as we catch up with the single most destructive force in education today.   Michelle recently got engaged to former NBA star, Sacramento Mayor, and accused sexual predator Kevin Johnson.   This is rather big news as there is a scandal brewing in Washington involving Rhee, Johnson, and Johnson’s Charter School Saint Hope.

During the Summer of 1995, a 16 year old girl went to the police claiming that Johnson had fondled her.   During a phone conversation recorded by the Phoenix police, Johnson apologized to the girl.   The Sacramento Bee stated that they had received a copy of a proposed settlement agreement, under which Johnson would have paid the girl’s family $230,000.   After conducting an investigation, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, on the grounds that there was not a reasonable likelihood of conviction.  This sort of thing would have stopped Kevin Johnson from being hired as a principal.  Fortunately, for Mister Johnson it didn’t stop him from running a very large charter school.

With Michelle Rhee on the board, In 2003, Johnson  formed St. HOPE Public Schools, a pre-K-12 independent charter school system that provides education to nearly 2,000 students in seven small schools.  The allegations soon followed.   In 2007 another police report was filed by a student who also claimed that Johnson fondled her.   After allegations of intimidation, those charges were dropped when the student recanted her testimony.

Gerald Walpin, Inspector General of Americorps began an investigation of Johnson after he was charged by 3 young women employees of making inappropriate sexual advances towards them and it became known that Johnson had misused some of the $800,000 in federal Americorps money given to St. Hope.   Johnson had used the money to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities, run personal errands for Johnson and even wash his car.  He even offered one teacher $1,000 a month in hush money secretly transferred to her bank account.

So what was Michelle Rhee’s role in this scandal.   First, she was described as complainants as being the one in charge of damage control at St. Hope.  She approached the Inspector General to try to intervene for Johnson.  “The basic point of her meeting with me was to tell me what a great guy he was,” Walpin recalls, “and what wonderful work he has done, and that maybe he had made mistakes administratively, but that she thought I should give as much consideration as possible to his good work in deciding what to do.”

This is the same Michelle Rhee who has shown no such patience for the teachers who she has shown the door.   I wonder how she balanced the good that they had done.  The end result of the investigation was the Johnson agreed to pay back half the money from Americorps and to pay back the rest of it within the next 10 years.   Meanwhile, Inspector General Walpin was fired.

While parroting right wing talking points in my own satirical blog, I’ve learned that among the keys to a successful blog, nothing is more important than not backing down from your own opinion no matter how hard it slams into the windshield of fact.  Andrew Wolk has learned that lesson well.   In his blog posting on Michelle Rhee, he holds her up as an example of a public innovator while completely leaving any specifics out of his glowing report.   I had a brief chuckle at reading it, but when I read E Favorite’s response, I found something interesting—the growing number of public figures who have quoted Michelle Rhee, who have had to issue apologies.  E Favorite found three, “Specifically, they are John Merrow of PBS… , Jay Mathews of the Washington Post… and Michael Petrilli of Education Next and the Fordham Foundation…”

Mayor Fenty is not doing well in opinion polls and it looks like he may be on his way out as DC’s mayor.   Michelle Rhee has clearly hurt him.   Unfortunately, when she goes off to save somebody else she will have left a lot of destruction in her wake.   If you’re coming in late, please check out my 4 part report on Michelle Rhee from last month here .


Written by thatsrightnate

November 24, 2009 at 8:27 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Well, let’s see how many things are wrong with this article ..

    1. Rhee didn’t approach AmeriCorps ultra-right wing Inspector general. He approached her as a member of St. HOPE’s board.

    2. The Sacramento Police, federal attorneys, Republican U.S. Attorney and bipartisan AmeriCorps staff found no merit in the allegations you note here, or in Walpin’s report.

    So start with getting the basic facts right.

    Truth Squad

    November 24, 2009 at 11:34 pm

  2. Well, let’s see how many things are wrong with this article ..

    1. Rhee didn’t approach AmeriCorps ultra-right wing Inspector general. He approached her as a member of St. HOPE’s board.

    According to Walpin, Rhee approached him on On June 27, 2008.

    2. The Sacramento Police, federal attorneys, Republican U.S. Attorney and bipartisan AmeriCorps staff found no merit in the allegations you note here, or in Walpin’s report.

    There is a difference between not prosecuting because of a lack of evidence, student intimidation, or a payoff and exoneration. Here are a few more details from Jeff Steele from DC Urban Moms and Dads:

    “Charges of sexual misconduct are nothing new to Kevin Johnson. In 1995, while a member of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, a 16 year old girl alleged that Johnson had fondled her. The Phoenix police recorded a phone conversation during which Johnson apologized (while not completely agreeing with the details of the incident). The Sacramento Bee reported that it had received a proposed settlement agreement under which Johnson would have paid the girl’s family $230,000. However, Johnson was not prosecuted in the case.

    In 2007, Erik Jones, a teacher at Sacramento High Charter School, told Sacramento Police that “a female student confided to him that Kevin Johnson had placed his hands on her shoulders, from the rear, and in doing so his hands ended up on the top portion of her breasts.” Jones also mentioned a second potential victim who worked for the Hood Corps. However police did not feel a crime had occurred in that instance. When Jones had first reported the allegation involving a minor to school officials, Johnson’s personal attorney, Kevin Hiestand, questioned the girl. State law required that authorities be notified immediately of such allegations, but police were not told of the incident until the interview with Jones. When the police finally interviewed the alleged victim, she recanted the story. The alleged victim had also confided in one of her friends. Both the friend and Jones said they were asked by Hiestand to alter their versions of the story. Jones subsequently resigned as a result of the handling of this case. Walpin’s referral describes this incident, but inexplicably identifies the alleged victim as an AmeriCorp member rather than a high school student. Walpin also failed to mention that the alleged victim later recanted.

    The most detailed account of sexual misconduct — and the one that involved Rhee — was reported by an AmeriCorps volunteer. The alleged victim told Walpin’s investigators that Johnson had come to her apartment at about midnight in order to review grades she had been entering into a database. Johnson walked into her bedroom and laid down on the bed. The alleged victim sat on the edge of the bed to show Johnson her work and he “layed [sic] down behind me, cupping his body around mine like the letter C.” Johnson then placed his hand on her hip, and she got up and left the room. Eventually, Johnson moved from the bedroom to the living room where he slept for the night. In the morning, the alleged victim’s roommate discovered Johnson there. A few weeks later, the alleged victim “got up the courage to tell one of my supervisors” and disclosed the incident to Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez. The day after the alleged victim talked to Wong-Hernandez, Johnson approached her and apologized. Johnson’s lawyer, Heistand met with her and “basically asked me to keep quiet.” Johnson later allegedly offered her $1,000 a month until she left the program, but the alleged victim refused.

    The volunteer’s story is collaborated by Wong-Hernandez who told investigators that the alleged victim had described inappropriate touching by Johnson. Wong-Hernandez reported the information to the human resources department and later learned that Heistand had contacted the alleged victim. In addition, Wong-Hernandez reported that Johnson had informed her that he had spoken with the alleged victim and “everything was okay between them”.

    Wong-Hernandez was also contacted by Michelle Rhee to find out what happened between Johnson and the alleged victim. Rhee told Wong-Hernandez that “she was making this her number one priority and she would take care of the situation”. Wong-Hernandez later resigned her position and attended an exit interview with Rhee. She told Rhee that her reason for leaving was “due to St. HOPE’s handling of the incident”. Rhee reportedly documented the interview in her daily planer and thanked Wong-Hernandez for bringing the disorganization of the program to her attention.

    It’s possible that this incident was the second case that Erik Jones had mentioned to police, but in which police declined to pursue charges. Since the alleged victim was not a minor, no crime would have occurred.

    Walpin’s referral also includes allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with another AmeriCorps volunteer. While not described as such in the documents, this alleged victim appears to be the roommate of the woman who reported Johnson’s behavior to Wong-Hernandez. This volunteer said “Johnson brushed my leg with his hand” three times and then “flipped up the edge” of her skirt. He also is alleged to have touched her leg on another occasion and to have kissed her on her cheek, brushed up against her, and massaged her shoulders.

    The alleged victim was able to confirm the bedroom incident involving Johnson and the other AmeriCorp volunteer to the extent that she found Johnson asleep on the couch of their living room. In addition, the other alleged victim had told her that Johnson had come into her room, laid on the bed and touched her. She also had been told of the offer for $1,000 a month.

    For Johnson, this adds up to a lot of smoke and at least some indication of fire. There are two allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with minors — the old 1995 case and the case reported by Erik Jones which ended in a recantation. In addition, there are two cases involving AmeriCorps volunteers, one of which is heavily collaborated. However, while these incidents may have exposed Johnson to EEOC actions, they don’t seem to reach the level of criminal activities.”


    November 25, 2009 at 7:12 am

  3. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a viable candidate yet to challenge Fenty. We will probably be stuck with him for four more years because the Washington Post will tell the voting sheep in DC to give him four more years and because the development community has heavily financed his re-election campaign. I’m praying that someone good shows up soon, but haven’t heard of anyone really good yet.

    So, while there is hope in the fact that Fenty is slipping in the polls, unless someone viable runs, we’re stuck with him (and Rhee too, unless by some miracle she leaves of her own accord.)


    December 8, 2009 at 11:55 am

  4. In Chicago we have the same problem with Mayor Daley. This problem with these wrongheaded reformers is a national one though. Michelle Rhee is the most infamous example, but she’s not alone. If we are going to save education from the same people who did so well by our economy, it will take a united stand in many cities.


    December 8, 2009 at 12:50 pm

  5. I think what we are going to be faced with is the privatization of public urban schools. They will be run by for-profit companies bellying up to the public trough. Developers or bankers will get sweetheart deals for the charter schools (which is already happening in DC.) The private schools that more advantaged people can afford will be filled to the brim. I wish I could feel optimistic about a “united stand” being taken by people in many different cities. I hope this pendulum doesn’t swing this way, but I fear we’re in for a long ride on this one until reality hits.


    December 8, 2009 at 4:49 pm

  6. If you go to my education blog at you’ll see a piece I wrote about Dennis Bakke of Imagine schools and just how much he gets of every dollar spent on students in his 74 schools. The wave is to privatize. It’s amazing how liberals have bought into this too.


    December 8, 2009 at 5:09 pm

  7. I had a little trouble clicking on your link, but then I entered “edumacation archive” in google and got to the link. I will probably do a little more research and reading up on Dennis Bakke and Imagine Schools. It’s difficult to grasp the concepts of the real estate deals (for me, and maybe for many others.) People just don’t want to know about that. They prefer to think they are on moral high ground if they fight the “evil” unions and drill kids until the test scores rise and to heck with the rest. I’m really glad that efavorite wrote about your blog on the Washington Post comment section.


    December 8, 2009 at 5:37 pm

  8. Efavorite has been such a wonderful proponent of this blog and I’ve had a lot of great people like yourself visit this blog because of him or her.


    December 8, 2009 at 8:06 pm

  9. […] unfair accusation.  However, I do feel the need to bring it up because of her recent engagement to Kevin Johnson who has not only been accused of sex with minors, but records show that he paid one girl who filed a complaint against him $230,000.   Rhee has […]

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