Friday Night Fights: Rhee Announces Hardy Principal Changes to Irate Crowd

Last Friday night, Chancellor Michelle Rhee came before the Hardy School PTA to announce significant changes to the school. As described earlier, this meeting came as a culmination of months of speculation and recriminations regarding the present and future states of the school.

The meeting was led by Hardy parent Keenan Keller. He began the meeting by setting out the ground rules of three minutes for questions and three minutes for answers. Before handing the microphone to Rhee, Keller read an email off of his phone that was sent from Hyde-Addison principal Dana Nerenberg describing her new role as principal of Hyde-Addison and Hardy. The email was apparently sent around 5:00 that night to the Hyde-Addison community. Thus before Rhee even took the microphone, the audience already knew that Patrick Pope was not going to remain as principal of Hardy School after this year.

Rhee began her remarks by stating that Hardy’s arts integration program is a model both for the city and the nation. She further stated that not withstanding any personnel changes at Hardy, the arts program will remain. She then segued into announcing that a new performing arts magnet school would be created and that Patrick Pope was offered the position to design, plan, implement and lead the new school. He will remain principal through this school year. Next year Dana Nerenberg would take over the principal function of Hardy on top of her responsibilities at Hyde-Addison. Patrick Pope would then take a year to create the new school. While implied, it was not 100% clear that he will actually be the principal of the new school when it opens in 2012.

This announcement was not taken well. It was followed by an hour and a half of questions/comments from the audience passionately objecting to both the process and substance of the decision. Here is a recording of the meeting, starting just as Rhee started talking and lasting as long as GM’s batteries held out:


The comments covered a broad range of arguments against the process and substance of the decision, but for the most part they boil down to these essential points:

  • Despite what Rhee was saying, her offer to Pope was an ultimatum: take this new job or I’ll simply fire you from your current one.
  • Hardy is a magnet school.
  • Rhee is making these changes to push out minority students in order to satisfy local white parents.
  • The only reason the local parents now looked favorably on Hardy is because of the beautiful renovations to the building and the need to consider public school as a result of the recession.
  • Rhee only considered the input of local parents in making this decision.

Do these points have merit? In GM’s opinion, the answer is a mix of yes and no.

Was the offer an ultimatum?

Rhee toed a careful line. She repeated over and over that Pope was offered the position and that he accepted. She denied that he was being forced out and asserted that if he were not an effective principal, she would not have put him in a new school.

While Pope was in the front row for the entire Q & A session, he did not speak. Once Rhee left, he stood and gave an emotional speech in praise of the school and his time there, but did not clarify the question of whether he was forced out or not. In GM’s opinion, his decision not to speak up during Rhee’s speech and his decision not to discuss the new magnet school when he did speak strongly implies, at the very least, that he is not enthusiastic about the change. Would he really take a position that he’s not enthusiastic about if he thought he had a choice? It seems unlikely.

Is Hardy a Magnet School?

The simple answer is no, it is not a magnet school. First of all, DCPS does not traditionally use the term “magnet school.” It refers to some schools as “specialized schools.” Specialized schools are those schools that require students to meet some precondition to attend the school and where no children have a right to enroll based solely on their residency.

With one glaring exception, Hardy has never been listed among the specialized schools. In fact, in February 2008, the Brookings Institute issued a report bemoaning the lack of a single specialized middle school in DC’s public schools (although that report indicates that “Hardy [was] exploring a themed art focus”).

While Mr. Pope integrated an application into the admissions process, the process to apply to Hardy was still contained within the out-of-boundary process (note that that webpage indicates a different process for students applying for “selective citywide high schools.”) Students from the Hardy district had a right to attend Hardy without going through the out-of-boundary process. By definition, that makes it a neighborhood school.

What’s the glaring exception? On the school profile for Hardy the following information appears:

From this profile, it would be hard not to conclude that Hardy is a specialized school. Moreover, Hardy’s own website makes no mention of a local student’s right to attend the school without going through the lottery process (in fact, the website makes it seem as if the lottery has nothing to do with admission to Hardy, which as far as GM can tell is not true.)

So considering these exceptions, is Hardy really a neighborhood school after all? In GM’s opinion, it appears that Hardy was never technically a specialized school. This is true because there never has been a time when local students had to go through the out-of-boundary process to attend Hardy. But it also seems as if Hardy became at some point a  “quasi-specialized” school through the efforts of Mr. Pope. It was like any other neighborhood school except that you were requested to complete an application to attend (notice that in this link, Hardy is singled out from among all schools for being unique in this fashion.)

The central question that GM has not yet answered is whether an out-of-boundary student could attend Hardy without completing the application. Does anyone know for certain that a student who won the out-of-boundary lottery for Hardy but simply refused to complete the application would be barred from attending the school? GM suspects the answer is no, but that in the interests of attracting only engaged students the Hardy leadership preferred to leave the impression that the answer is yes.

Rhee Is Making these Changes to Push Out Minority Students in Order to Satisfy Local White Parents

The fact is that removing Principal Pope is not going to instantly lead to a flood of new local students attending Hardy. And until more local children choose to attend Hardy, there will still be plenty of out-of-boundary slots at the school that must be filled. Thus, for the foreseeable future Hardy will continue to teach primarily out-of-boundary students who are almost entirely African-American or Hispanic. Moreover, all the rules of sibling rights and destination schools (i.e., if you attend Hyde-Addison out-of-boundary you have a right to attend Hardy) will continue to apply.

However, it seems likely that as a general matter Rhee would like to see more local children attending their local middle schools instead of private schools. In Hardy’s case, this would inherently mean fewer slots for out-of-boundary children. So to the extent that Rhee is making this change to attract more in-boundary children it will necessarily mean “pushing out” some minority students. Is this “pushing out” the side-effect of a legitimate objective (namely increasing DCPS enrollment) or is it the objective itself? How you answer that question probably determines how you view this entire matter.

The Only Reason Local Parents Care About Hardy Now is Because of the Renovations and the Recession

This is impossible to know for certain. Everyone has their own reasons for what school they choose for their children. It’s undoubtedly the case that Hardy’s beautiful renovations make it much more attractive to local parents. Moreover, the recession plus the ever increasing cost of private school surely are pressuring parents into considering public schools.

But in GM’s opinion the reasons are likely broader than that. Many suspect a baby-boom (although GM has yet to see hard statistics to support that). Another reason may be that success merely builds on success. In other words, more and more parents see success at the feeder school-level and would like to see that success continue at the middle school-level. But from speaking with parents of Hardy feeder-schools, the story is pretty consistent: they believe that Pope is not interested in Hardy being anything but a specialized school. Is that justified? GM can’t say.

Rhee Only Considered the Input of the Feeder School Parents in Making Her Decision

This seems indisputably true. Rhee met with a group of Key parents last February. In August, one of her aids met with the same group. In October she promised CAG “exciting changes” at Hardy that would hopefully lead to more in-boundary parents considering Hardy as an option. It does not appear that at anytime before Friday did she meet with Hardy parents. In fact, on two occasions Rhee’s aids misrepresented the plans to parties concerned on behalf of Hardy parents, including the Washington Area NAACP. Even if you agree with Rhee’s decision, you must admit this is not the right way to go about making a change.

Conclusion

There are so many more complicated and sensitive issues involved with this situation than could be addressed in even an overly long article like this one.

While many would disagree over a lot of these issues, what almost everyone would agree on is that the entire matter was not well handled. Rhee appears not to have reached out to the current Hardy population for input. She admitted that her aids intentionally mislead people. And she is putting Dana Nerenberg in an almost impossible situation. In GM’s opinion, it should not have happened this way.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Friday Night Fights: Rhee Announces Hardy Principal Changes to Irate Crowd

  1. Ken Archer

    Thanks again for such even-handed, thoughtful reporting.

  2. ComeGetWhatYouDeserve

    Public schools are open to everyone, including those who are considered to be privileged. Privileged children (assuming that living in Georgetown automatically qualifies one as privileged) should have access to local schools that emphasize academics over arts, as this is the case throughout the district(this is not a judgment about the quality of such schools only their availability and emphasis). To do otherwise is to discriminate based on class. Equality means equal treatment for everyone, not just those who have traditionally suffered. Anyone who acts or speaks in a manner that is contrary to this is supports the very thing they claim to despise. No one ever questioned how a school district that struggles to pay for text books and other essential supplies managed to fund such a prestigious arts program at Hardy. Nobody questioned certain members of the administration, the counselor (100k), the deferment of administrative duties to security guards, and the blatant disregard of the needs of the local community. Perhaps if this is investigated further the true injustices that have been allowed to go on at Hardy for years will be revealed. The children who were deprived because what was meant for them was given to children who were deemed more talented and more entitled to such resources may finally get some justice. While there are many good teachers at Hardy, they should be aware that they are expendable even the ones who have received rewards (getting first place in a beauty contest for ugly people doesn’t mean you’re pretty). Next year when Hardy goes back to being a regular school there will no shortage of highly qualified teachers who want to work there.

  3. Kate Whitmore

    Excellent summary but you left out one important point: if we believe Rhee’s words, her priority is the overall system. That would make establishment of a true magnet middle school for arts and music an important goal. Ellington has virtually no feeders and such a school would provide just that. Ward 2 is lacking a “traditional” middle school and since Pope’s preference and strength appear be an arts and music curriculum, he would be the one to tap to mastermind of the new school. His reputation and experience with Hardy would make the school an instant success. Whether he prefers staying at Hardy or not is actually beside the point: he works for DCPS and all teachers and administrators know that there may be times when the “big picture” is more important than maintaining their current fiefdom. Mr. Pope himself has experienced this more than once and neither time was it a demotion. I would think given his long run at Hardy he would be excited professionally by the new challenge.

  4. Is there a contact email and phone number for the writer of The Georgetown Metropolitan who wrote these articles on Hardy ?

    Would you be willing to post your name and email information so that interested parties can contact you about this story directly ?

    Thanks,

    The Washington Teacher
    c/o saveourcounselors@gmail.com

    http://thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com/

  5. Pingback: Our Morning Roundup: Do You Appreciate Your Local Record Shop? - City Desk - Washington City Paper

  6. E Favorite

    I can see the “the big picture” theme is taking hold as a rationalization for ousting Mr. Pope and making changes at Hardy.

    Consider that if Michelle Rhee were thinking of the big picture and what’s best for all children, she wouldn’t have met privately with neighborhood parents, then not at all with Hardy parents until after her “big picture” plan was in place. She could have used her position as boss to tell Mr. Pope to be more accommodating to neighborhood parents, instead of telling him his job there was over. Consider that the big picture theme is a ruse to make anyone not in favor of Rhee’s decision feel small and against change – and the reverse – anyone buying the big picture theme can think of themselves open to change and for the good of all the children.

    However, if Hardy turns into a specialty school for advanced students instead of a “regular” school, then the big picture theme will have to give way to another rationalization.

    I know that high-order thinkers can concoct really sophisticated rationalizations, but keep in mind that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see through them. Some may think it’s justified for parents caught in an economic squeeze to use backchannel mechanisms and economic clout to reclaim a newly refurbished neighborhood public school for their kids. Others may not think it’s justified. But everyone can see what’s going on.

  7. wow

    Mr. Pope does what he wants regardless of laws, mandates, ect. Therefore Rhee can’t tell him anything that he finds too out of line with his goals and expect him to make a good faith effort to follow her orders. His leaving is probably one of the best things that has ever happened not only for Hardy, but for the entire Georgetown community.

    It really doesn’t matter what people think, the neighborhood students are entitled to a public school that can accommodate them. Therefore all this crap about people just wanting the new building, discrimination, and the economy is irrelevant and anyone who continues to talk about is intentionally stalling or really dense. You can’t tell a group of people that they have to go to a private school because they are wealthy, but if they really want to go the neighborhood school or can’t afford the private school they are welcome at the neighborhood school but they have to be willing to tolerate the intensive fine arts theme. Most students/people are not gifted in the fine arts. Neighborhood students are cast

    Rhee should have at least been considerate enough to include the current Hardy community in the talks. She made a strategic decision. Such talks would likely lead to injunctions and other things that would slow progress and continue the stereotype perpetuated by Hardy, that minority children are mediocre(mediocre is considered high achieving by DC standards) at academics but are superior at singing and dancing. Nobody talks about how the only reason some parents send their children to Hardy is because their neighborhood and neighborhood schools are not safe. While everyone is welcome in Georgetown, if these issues were addressed directly rather than avoided than this would not be as big of an issue for some people.

    Maybe Rhee should be focused on the schools in SE that are comprised of students who aren’t lucky enough to have parents that bother to try to get them into schools like hardy or who lost the lottery and have to go to the bad schools in dangerous neighborhoods rather than trying to create more high achieving schools. Maybe she should be trying to create more vocational programs, so more people have access to income after high school and are able to become contributing members of society.

  8. PhillipMarlowe

    Piece of work, wow.

  9. anonymous

    “anyone who continues to talk about is intentionally stalling or really dense.”

    And anyone who decides what it means if people keep taking about something is trying to shame them from continuing the conversation!

    “continue the stereotype perpetuated by Hardy, that minority children are mediocre… at academics but are superior at singing and dancing.”

    Does this go for Ellington too?

  10. PhillipMarlowe

    Oh, and by the way WOW, Mrs. Rhee is holding open office hours at DCPS schools.
    Guess where she is not going?
    Southeast.

  11. wow

    anonymous: Point 2: the same does not go for Duke as the schools histories are substantially different and the students at duke tend to be of much higher quality and for the most part are not products of hardy(this does not mean some duke students didn’t go to hardy and benefit from going to hardy).

    Point 1: You separated what I said from its context, I don’t mean to discourage anyone from adding useful information and I aplogize if anyone was intimidated by what I posted. I just want to make sure everyone understands that the Georgetown community is entitled to a public middle school that can meet its needs and Pope’s quasi Julliard Jr doesn’t meet these needs. If someone finds some relevant fact that shows that parent’s/rhee’s motivation due to race, the building renovation, or the economy somehow negates a child’s right to a free and appropriate public education I would love to hear about it. WordPress and the person who operates this blog are the only entities that can regulate who posts here and what is allowed to be posted.

  12. FREE SPEACH

    I think all of you who think that Hardy is not a strong academic school have never been to Hardy and have not seen the test scores of its students. Yes Hardy has instrumental music, vocal music and visual arts but having those three do not make it an arts school. Hardy is a strong academic school that has a strong music and arts program. Mr. Pope created the schedule so that all students receive additional help when needed and all teachers work together to bring out the best in all students. My child loves Hardy, Mr. Pope and all of the teachers. All of the neighborhood students CAN ATTEND Hardy but they decide not too.

    Students do not have to be a Monet, a Kenny G, or a Franklin in order to attend. Almost all of the entering students have never played an instrument, sung in a school choir or taken advanced art lessons. If all or most of the teachers leave along with Mr. Pope, Hardy will go down the drain. It is not the building that makes Hardy a great school, it is the administration and the teachers. Without these, Hardy will never be the same. There has to be another reason why people in Georgetown don’t want Hardy to remain a neighborhood school with a strong arts program. Students should be well rounded and having a school like Hardy hits every part of a childs mind.

    I really don’t believe that there will be a magnet arts school and I think that Rhee is using the success of Hardy to change it for the parents who don’t want Mr. Pope and the current population there. It seems that Hardy is not the first school that has done well that Rhee is trying to demolish. It seems that if a school succeeds and does not have Rhee’s name on it, she destroys it. She knows that she can do whatever she wants to do and doesn’t have to answer to anyone. She does not do what the majority of parents or children want, she does what she wants. Rhee is power struck! Something really needs to be done with Rhee.

  13. NoNeedForAName

    Free speach:(I think you meant to use the name Free Speech) All evidence demonstrates the Rhee’s adjustments to DCPS have improved the system overall thus far. Your feelings or your son’s love of his teachers is irrelevant in considering the overall quality of Hardy Middle School. It would be unwise for DC to remove Rhee with out giving her a fair amount of time to make changes and to realize the results of such changes. DC has a long history of replacing leaders based on changes without allowing for enough time to objectivly determine if such changes are successful. If this pattern of removing superintendents/chancellors continues DCPS will never see any improvements regardless of who is in charge. The only objective way to evaluate a school is through standardized test scores. Based on Hardy’s scores it should be clear why most Georgetown families lack confidence in Hardy’s ability to provide an education to their children. The residents of Georgetown along with citizens throughout DC do not consider above average scores for DC to be good enough for their children and indicative of a quality education. This is further evidenced by teachers who have middle school aged children that refuse to send their children to Hardy despite Pope’s offering of such opportunities.

  14. Teach For America

    No Need For A Name:
    Read today’s Wash. Post Sunday article by Bill Turque in the metro. Don’t be thrown by the change in title in the print edition from the online version. The Post editorial board loves to spin the PR machine for Rhee & Fenty to cast them in the best favorable light.

    Look at the facts in the NAEP Scores revealed. All the gains Rhee has claimed are not accurate. Also check out how white students were not included in
    all of the data as the sample was not large enough.
    Too bad the truth was not placed on A1 like the first story lauding Rhee’s overinflated claims and taking credit without acknowledging teachers who are responsible.

  15. Pingback: Rhee Meets With Hardy Parents «

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