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 on Tuesday, includes many anecdotes about her relationship with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and a description of her advocacy group's fledgling attempts to shape policy in California's Capitol.
The book release follows The Bee's look at Rhee's organization on Sunday. Read some excerpts from the book on the jump.
On the early days of her friendship with Kevin Johnson, while she was chancellor of the Washington, DC 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 unwinding after losing her job as chancellor following Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's failed bid for re-election in 2010:
"The day after the screening of Waiting for Superman, KMJ and I flew to Hawaii. We had planned the trip months before. It was originally supposed to be our honeymoon, but we had postponed the wedding because it was turning into a media circus... When we settled into our hotel, KMJ set the tone and gave a few clear orders: no BlackBerry, no phone, no work. 'It's time to turn it off,' he said. 'We are going to relax.' Relaxing was also something we weren't very good at. But this time was different. We snorkeled; we swam; we kayaked. We rode zip lines and flew over the islands in a helicopter. Our vacations in the past had been a mix of work and play. These three days were pure play. It was the first time either of us had ever completely stopped working before."
On crafting the idea to form StudentsFirst over dinner at a restaurant in Sacramento:
"I flew to Sacramento on September 24 to spend time with KMJ and his mom, Mother Rose... As soon as I walked into Mulvaney's restaurant, KMJ took one look at me and asked, 'What is it? You're contemplating something, I can tell.' ... My frustration came from the perspective of an education reformer - from the top. I figured that the right superintendent who was willing to make changes and had political backing could accomplish bold reforms. I was proved wrong, because I didn't figure in the power of the unions. KMJ was plotting and jotting notes. 'If we are going to make a difference, we need to start a movement. A movement of everyday people who are fed up with their kids getting a subpar education. We need to create a vehicle through which they can take action and drive change,' he said... KMJ kept jotting. We kept talking. Finally, he turned over his notes for Mother Rose and me to see. He had sketched out our new organization. We settled on a plan to create a national advocacy group that would raise money and build membership with the goal of providing political muscle to leaders who stood for change."
On the decision to base StudentsFirst in Sacramento:
"I already had a small office and staff in Washington, but that didn't feel right as a permanent home. Kevin Huffman, my ex-husband, had been offered the job of commissioner of education for the state of Tennessee. He would be moving to Nashville. KMJ pointed out that Kevin had agreed to move to D.C. so I could take the chancellor's job. It was our turn to return the favor. I started making plans to set up a house in Nashville with my parents, and I would be there half-time, but it wasn't the right place for StudentsFirst. KMJ and I had postponed our wedding, but it was inevitable that I would marry the mayor of Sacramento. Would his hometown make a good base for StudentsFirst? 'You have to come to the belly of the beast,' he said. California was the most populous state, and its teachers union was arguably the strongest in the nation. Its legislature, run by Democrats, was in the union's thrall. It would be the hardest state to reform. A few days later I knew for sure: Sacramento would be our home base."
On efforts to get more Democrats, Latinos and African Americans involved with StudentsFirst:
"The right to a high-quality education was being denied to too many of our children - especially those of color and in low-income communities. 'I am one of the kids you're trying to help, just forty-six years older,' KMJ said. 'I came up here in Sacramento with lousy schools defined by my zip code. That was my reality.' 'What do you proposed?' I asked. 'We have to reach out to Latino and African American communities. We must be driving the reforms for our own kids,' he said. 'Let me take that on.' KMJ knew the terrain... KMJ introduced our StudentsFirst policy agenda to the Urban League and NAACP in California. He brought it before the National Conference of Black Mayors and convinced the group to adopt our policies. At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he chaired the education task force and aligned the conference with our agenda as part of its goals."
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."
On the 2012 fight over a teacher evaluation proposal, Assembly Bill 5, in the California Capitol:
"When KMJ told me I should headquarter StudentsFirst in Sacramento because it was the 'belly of the beast,' he wasn't kidding. The California Teachers Association has a stranglehold on the legislature... What happened to (AB 5) was a clear lesson in California politics... While (federal education funding program) Race to the Top has inspired 38 states to follow the lead that we set in D.C. to require that student achievement play a large role in teacher evaluation, California, at the behest of the CTA, was poised to move in the opposite direction. That's where the Obama administration and StudentsFirst came in. We worked with our members and reform organization partners across the state to educate the opinion makers, legislators, and general public about how poor the bill was and how it would be a step backward for California. Our members emailed and called legislative offices for days leading up to the vote... While we were successful in scuttling this bad piece of legislation, the lesson is stark. Not only are we nowhere close to trying to craft meaningful evaluation policy in California, but we're having to pull out all the stops to try to defend against legislation that would move the state in the wrong direction. Had StudentsFirst and the reform community failed to mobilize quickly, in all likelihood this bill would have swept through the legislature, moving the state's public education system backward, without any pushback or opposition. This is the dynamic that we're up against in California and the reason why it
.will take a massive grassroots movement to achieve education reform in the Golden State."
PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle Rhee and husband Kevin Johnson applaud as awards are given during the St. HOPE Benefit Dinner in Sacramento on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua