Ward 4 residents pining for that Trader Joe’s aren’t the only ones mourning Vince Gray‘s defeat of Adrian Fenty in Tuesday’s mayoral primary. The new documentary Waiting for Superman, which opens here Oct. 1, explores the state of public education across the country, including in D.C. under the leadership of Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
In the film, director Davis Guggenheim makes no attempt to veil his admiration for Rhee’s hard-charging attempts to reform D.C. schools, repeatedly citing her outsider origins, shutting down of crumbling schools, and waging war with the Washington Teachers’ Union. But with Fenty on the way out, the overwhelming conventional wisdom is that Rhee will be right behind him considering the Gray campaign’s description of the Fenty-Rhee approach as “short-sighted, narrow, and clandestine.”
I spoke with Guggenheim yesterday as the director made his way to the film’s Washington premiere at the Newseum, where Rhee later called Gray’s win “devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.” in a post-screening discussion. Guggenheim—who grew up attending the Potomac School and Sidwell Friends—was a bit more politically delicate in our discussion, but he didn’t shy away from offering his hopes for a post-Fenty—and most likely post-Rhee — public school system.
“I know better than to discuss city politics, but I spent a lot of time in D.C. schools and I saw firsthand the effects she had on these schools,” he said. “It’s transformative.”
On what advice he would give the incoming mayor on selecting a schools chancellor, Guggenheim doubled down on Rhee’s methods: “I would say just because the mayor changed doesn’t means the kids have changed. Those kids still need great schools and great teachers and they still need those reforms.”