Early peek at Rhee's book

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 11AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 - 10:30 am

After her speech Tuesday night as part of the Sacramento Speakers Series, education advocate Michelle Rhee sold early copies of her new autobiography, "Radical: Fighting to Put Students First."

The book, which will be released publicly Tuesday, includes many anecdotes about her relationship with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and a description of her advocacy group StudentsFirst and its fledgling attempts to shape policy in California's Capitol, in part by challenging the power of teachers unions.

The book release follows the recent airing of "The Education of Michelle Rhee," a PBS "Frontline" documentary that examines the controversial methods and confrontational style of the person it calls "one of America's most admired and reviled school reformers."

Here are a few excerpts:

On the early days of her friendship with Kevin Johnson, while she was chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools and having trouble building credibility among African American constituents:

"Church," Kevin Johnson told me. "You gotta go to a black church." Kevin Johnson – or KJ, as his fans called him – had become a friend and confidant. We'd met at an education conference a few years back, and he'd convinced me to sit on the board of his nonprofit organization in Sacramento, St. HOPE Public Schools. I trusted him immediately. A former NBA star, KJ was an anomaly. He returned to the community he grew up in to start charter schools. He wasn't about the razzle-dazzle of being a former pro athlete. He worked harder than anyone else in his organization. I got used to getting emails from him at two o'clock in the morning. In fact, he was so different from what people expected from KJ the phenom, that I refused to refer to him as that, preferring KMJ (using his middle initial) instead."

On her blossoming romance with Johnson in 2009:

I was elated as I headed to California for a long weekend getaway. It seemed as if the end was in sight. I was going to meet Kevin Johnson, my longtime friend and adviser who was becoming much more important to me. When I had to resign from his charter school board in 2007 to take the chancellor job, he came out to testify on my behalf at the city council nomination hearings. In 2008 he decided to run for mayor of Sacramento and asked if I could help him craft his education platform. I worked closely with him. During the campaign our relationship changed from the politics of education to the intricacies of romance.

On their engagement:

Kevin Johnson came to D.C. for a visit. On a cool October evening he took me to see a performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Kennedy Center. Afterward, we drove through downtown D.C. We pulled over in front of the Capitol. He pointed out the window. "That's where we were sitting during the inauguration, do you remember?" he asked. He'd been invited to Obama's inauguration and we had had amazing seats atop the Capitol for the swearing-in. I peered up to where he was pointing, but it was dark outside. "I think so," I said. "Come on!" he said, and dragged me out of the car. I wasn't thrilled. It was cold, wet, and rainy outside, but my man wanted to reminisce, so I went along. Standing at the fountain at the foot of the West Lawn, he asked, "Do you love me?" "Yup," I said. "Then marry me," he said. He pulled a wad of toilet paper out of his jacket and unwound it to produce the ring. It was beautiful. "Yes," I said.

On StudentsFirst's strategy as a lobbying organization:

The power of StudentsFirst is not in playing the inside game. The teachers unions have a thirty-year head start on walking the halls of state capitols, bonding legislators to their causes and meting out retribution to those who cross them. We are not going to beat them at that game. We have to play and win in the outside game … . We will have to put pressure on legislators they have never felt from anyone other than unions. We will need to counterbalance the unions' money with our members.

For more excerpts from Rhee's book "Radical," go to http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest and scroll down to the Jan. 31 post.

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Read more articles by Laurel Rosenhall

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