D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's mantra is:

"It's all about getting and keeping good teachers."

So why, I must ask, would she allow Wilson Senior High to force out Joe Riener, a great teacher who taught students to love literature and prepared many to score well on Advanced Placement tests? Could it be that her vaunted IMPACT evaluation system is flawed, and personal preferences can get in the way of impartial evaluation?

Cards on the table: My daughter took a pair of Riener classes at Wilson -- AP English Language and AP English Lit. Math has come easy for her, but she's always struggled with the written word. Riener taught her -- and thousands of students for the last 15 years -- to love reading and improve writing.

"The way you learn to write is to write," he says. "I took students' writing seriously, read it, commented on it. They improved. That was my objective."

In 1995, Wilma Bonner, then the principal, brought him on specifically to boost Wilson's lagging AP classes. Riener had graduated from Georgetown with a double major in English and History. He brought with him a love for classics such as "Huckleberry Finn" and "The Catcher in The Rye."

"They might start talking about Holden Caulfield's sour attitude, but we would build from that initial impression to something much deeper," Riener explains. "The book gets transformed to an exploration of grief and what unexpressed feelings can do to someone."

Riener fell in love with Wilson kids and they with him. He became faculty adviser to the Players, the school's idiosyncratic drama club. He convinced Harriet Bronstein, renowned producer of school musicals, to produce them at Wilson. He restarted the Beacon, Wilson's student newspaper.

I imagine it was his "expressed feelings" that got him crosswise with Pete Cahall, Rhee's handpicked principal. Cahall is all about authority; Riener is all about challenging it. He's a rebel; dare I say subversive.

Take the clock. Riener didn't want one in his room. "I would lose the kids for the last 10 minutes of every class," he said. "Besides, in my classroom I make the rules."

Cahall loves rules and clocks. He put one on Riener's wall. Riener disabled it. Cahall threatened to write a letter of insubordination. Riener relented.

In teacher evaluations over the years, Riener rarely scored well. Rhee's IMPACT crew gave him low marks, but he could have survived, until Cahall dropped his score 20 points -- for not complying with school rules.

Faced with termination, Riener, 62, retired. Ironically, Riener is a Cahall fan. He likes the way the new principal is running Wilson.

"I kept hoping he might see I might be an outlier but I was valuable, and he would leave me alone."

My question for Rhee: Can her new system accommodate quirky but passionate educators who can inspire?

The answer might come when Riener tries to sign on part-time at Wilson to keep working with students in the drama club and teaching AP English.

"Criticism makes leaders better," Riener says.

If they can take it.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at ">hjaffe@washingtonexaminer.com.