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Alaina Love
Leadership author

Alaina Love

Alaina Love is co-author, with Marc Cugnon, of The Purpose Linked Organization and co-founder of Purpose Linked Consulting.

The education innovators: Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada

Question:Considering all spheres of endeavor, who would you nominate as Leader of the Year in 2010? Why?

There are two leaders whose work this year stands out as an example of courage, tenacity and dedication to the future of this country through the education of our children. They are the former DC school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, and the president of Harlem Children's Zone, Geoffrey Canada.

Both of these leaders are tough, determined and committed to reversing the appalling decline in the academic performance of children educated in the United States. Each in their own way has taken on the mammoth task of reforming our schools and involving teachers and parents in the battle to build capable next-generation citizens who are able to compete and win in the global arena.

True, their styles may be somewhat different. Canada, whose work was featured in a recent public-education documentary called "Waiting for Superman", has become a star among education-reform advocates. With his typical New York accent and big-city drive, he engages everyone who will listen in discussion about his quest to improve the odds for low-income children in Harlem. He works tirelessly to decrease dropout rates and to enhance the number of college-bound students graduating from the city's public schools. And the results are encouraging. Of the students who participate in Harlem Children's Zone programs, 90 percent go on to college.

Rhee, a controversial figure in her own right, took on the DC public school system, unarguably one of the worst in the nation, and held teachers accountable for student performance. She fired under-performing teachers and set standards for academic quality that won her as many enemies as it did fans. Perhaps her tactics weren't always well received, which is not uncommon for any true reformer, but her intent and her zeal for children cannot be denied. Like most agents of change, she faced strong opposition because she spent more time working on the education crisis in DC schools than she did on building a coalition of support--one that might have allowed her to survive a mayoral turnover election. Since her resignation, Rhee has taken her fight to the national stage by founding studentsfirst.org, an organization leading a movement to reform America's schools and to make our educational system "the best in the world".

Regardless of your politics, each of these "in your face" leaders deserves special recognition for their remarkable accomplishments. Our nation has a brighter future because they are leading the charge to make America's educational system deliver on its promise.

By Alaina Love

 |  December 20, 2010; 3:06 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The reputation riskers: Dick Durbin and Tom Coburn | Next: The activist: Aung San Suu Kyi

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If Rhee's policies and vision were embraced by a sound majority of our nation, and not only in D.C., nobody would even be discussing America's decline.

A country that puts its children first, has solid foundation in its values would not produce as many embarrassment as we've had, whether in the choices made in recent wars, on Wall Street, or in the performance in our health and educational system.

Rhee is my leader for the year.
Gates would be a close second. Not everybody has the resources that Gates possesses, but everybody can start taking a sober look at Rhee's vision. Put away preconceptions. Abe Lincoln got defeated a number of times before he achieved his vision.

Most great leaders' visions are a bit jarring to many people at the beginning.

If it's obvious to everyone from the start, the leader will not be elevating the thinking of the masses that much.

Posted by: Joallen8 | December 24, 2010 6:52 PM
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These responses are typical reactions to any leader in DC trying to make a difference. Rhee has gotten the same flack as Obama, yet both are still moving forward making change happen in their own way. Did you really expect Rhee to fix DC schools overnight when it took years for them to reach their sorry state? No more than Obama will fix Washington politics and the issues in this country in one administration or two for that matter.

Posted by: MartinG1 | December 22, 2010 1:16 PM
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If you have read the Post recently and were aware of the ongoing dysfunction of the DC Public Schools while under the control of this so-called education reformer Rhee, your choice is more ridiculous.

Posted by: Robmic812 | December 22, 2010 11:37 AM
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You don't know about Michelle Rhee, do you?

Posted by: jlp19 | December 21, 2010 4:46 PM
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"Perhaps her tactics weren't always well received, which is not uncommon for any true reformer, but her intent and her zeal for children cannot be denied."

So is that why Rhee acted as the cover up person when Kevin Johnson tried to molest girls at the Hope Charter School?

I think anyone who knows about Rhee's career in DC can say that she had no true zeal for children. Why a destructive force like Michelle Rhee is being used as an example of reform is beyond my understanding.

Posted by: educationlover54 | December 20, 2010 6:44 PM
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I can see praising Gregory Canada but not Michelle Rhee. Comparing Canada to Rhee is to insult Canada.

Posted by: educationlover54 | December 20, 2010 6:42 PM
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