Tonight at 6:00 (UPDATE: The meeting is starting at 6:30, not 6:00, however it appears that the Hardy PTA is encouraging its members to arrive at 6:00, so if getting a good seat is important to you, you might want to arrive early.) DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is scheduled to speak at the Hardy School. This is expected to be the culmination of weeks of speculation and recriminations revolving around the future of the middle school.
The story begins at least as far back as February of this year. A group of parents who send their children to Key Elementary School in the Palisades had created a group called “Life After Key”, which focuses on exploring middle school options for their children. One of those options is the local middle school, the Hardy School (which is also the middle school that Georgetown’s Hyde feeds into). Concerned about the quality of Hardy, the group arranged for a meeting with Chancellor Rhee to discuss the future of the school. The minutes of that meeting are available here.
According to these minutes, Rhee acknowledged to the group that parents are anguished over their decisions for middle school and that they wish they could view Hardy as an option for their children. Rhee stated that DCPA has a unique opportunity with Hardy since it has a newly renovated building with an excellent core group of teachers. She stated that within 3 to 4 years Hardy could be a school in high demand as “changes occur.”
What she didn’t say, according to the minutes, is that these changes include the firing of the current principal of Hardy, Patrick Pope. This was confirmed to GM by the chairman of the Life After Key committee, Patricia Sulser. She wrote to GM, “there has never been any proposal or resolution stemming from Key School or Key School parents to fire Patrick Pope.”
Despite the text of the minutes, speculation of a conspiracy between Rhee and neighborhood parents took flight following Rhee’s comments to CAG in October. At that meeting, which GM attended, Rhee responded to a question about the dilemma Georgetown parents face when their children reach middle school age. Rhee acknowledged that Georgetown parents did not have confidence in Hardy to the same degree that upper Northwest parents had confidence in Alice Deal School. She promised that in December she would announce a plan that would hopefully change Georgetown’s opinion of Hardy.
The majority of students of Hardy come from “out-of-boundary.” That means they come from areas outside the feeder school area. This came about due to the historic underenrollment into Hardy by neighborhood children.
When wind of Rhee’s comments reached the parents of the out-of-boundary children, they were furious. They reached out to the Post and the Examiner to publish a staunch defense of Pope, despite the fact that Rhee did not discuss firing Pope at either the February or the October meeting.
This Monday the ANC decided to weigh in. Commissioner Bill Starrels, a Hardy parent, introduced a motion to encourage Chancellor Rhee to keep Mr. Pope as principal of the school. During the discussion a Hyde parent in the audience objected to the motion on the grounds that the motion appeared to be in response to a mere rumor. She also argued that Mr. Pope did not have a great record of reaching out to the neighborhood and thus did not merit the support of the ANC. Jennifer Altemus, President of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, also chimed in that she hadn’t “heard a lot of support for Hardy, I wonder if that’s because of the principal…somewhere in [the residents] minds they’re not sending their kids from fifth grade to sixth grade…maybe there needs to be a fresh start but I think the community needs to be given a voice before someone is endorsed.”
During the discussion for the resolution Commissioner Solomon stated, “what has come to the attention of this commissioner is as I understand it, there were meetings held at the Key School, and part of those meetings, minutes have been, let’s say sent out, it’s out there for public consumption, and part of those meetings indicated the removal of the Principal at Hardy.” However, if the minutes that Commissioner Solomon is referencing are the minutes from the February meeting between Chancellor Rhee and the Life After Key group, it’s not clear where he got the idea that they “indicated the removal of the Principal at Hardy.”
But judge for yourself. Here’s a recording of the ANC’s discussion on the resoltion:
The resolution passed with four yeas and three abstentions.
This issues with Hardy School are deeply complicated and sensitive. The majority of the students come from parts of the city where the middle school is not an attractive option. Under Principal Pope’s leadership Hardy has become a quasi-magnet school for them based upon its strong arts and music program. The key word there is “quasi.” It is not in fact a real magnet school; it is still fundamentally a neighborhood middle school. But as more neighborhood children choose to attend Hardy, that pushes out the students that view Hardy as a magnet school refuge. So when Chancellor Rhee talks about attracting more neighborhood children to Hardy, out-of-boundary parents only see that as limiting their children’s opportunities. And that makes them understandably upset.
This anger led the Hardy PTA to issue this email:
Greetings Hardy Families:
On behalf of the PTA and LSRT, you are invited to an open meeting with Chancellor Michelle Rhee on Friday, December 4, at 6:00 pm in the Hardy Auditorium. We urge all of you to attend this critical meeting with the Chancellor, as information important to the future of Hardy Middle School will be at the center of the agenda. Substantial time will be devoted to questions, allowing all of you to have a dialogue with the Chancellor about the future of our school. We hope to see all you on Friday, December 4, at 6:00 pm in the Hardy Auditorium.
Now is a critical time for the Hardy Community to ban together and show the DCPS Administration that our school works well and that we want Hardy Middle School preserved.
If you are interested in posing a question or concern to the Chancellor, please send your questions and comments to Dionne Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to attach your full name to the email.
PLEASE PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!!
So the showdown is set. Where will the chips land? We’ll see…