Chancellor's office leads PR campaign for embattled Hardy principal

Photo by The Georgetown Dish
Hardy Middle School students at the school
Hardy Middle School students at the school

The Office of the Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools has been soliciting letters from parents to the media in support of struggling Hardy Middle School Principal Dana Nerenberg.

Hardy Principal Dana Nerenberg, who also helms Hyde-Addison Elementary (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Hardy Principal Dana Nerenberg, who also helms Hyde-Addison Elementary
In an email to parents forwarded to The Georgetown Dish with the subject line "Calling for Hardy Parent Support," Safiya Simmons, the Chancellor's Assistant Press Secretary, wrote, "I have been working with Prin. Nerenberg on refuting rumors that parents are unhappy with Hardy. After reading Bill Turqe’s (sic) article in The Washington Post this weekend, I asked Prin. Nerenberg for the names of a few parents I could chat with. I’d like very much to have a Hardy parent or two write a letter to the editors of The Washington Post disproving the story that Bill Turque is trying to sell: that all parents are unhappy with Hardy, that Prin. Nerenberg is not doing as good a job as prin. (sic) Pope was, and that the school somehow is spiraling out of control."

Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee named Nerenberg principal of Hardy last year -- in addition to her role as principal of Hyde-Addison -- after removing popular Hardy Principal Patrick Pope, who had led the award-winning school for 12 years until his sudden reassignment to a desk job in the central office. The school has since experienced spiraling discipline problems, upheavals over the schedule, and disruption of Hardy's renowned music and arts programs including the unprecedented absence of the annual holiday musical in December.

When asked whether the Chancellor's office was soliciting public support for Nerenberg, Simmons first said, "I am not actively asking parents. But that doesn't mean that someone else on our team is not doing that. This is a big organization." She added, "We had some conversations in November, but that effort did not pan out."

Later, Simmons wrote an email to The Georgetown Dish, saying "there isn’t a campaign to solicit parental endorsement of Hardy in the press" but that "Interim Chancellor [Kaya] Henderson has received multiple emails from parents expressing their support of Ms. Nerenberg" and that the Chancellor's office was contacting those parents to speak with the media.

Doug Ellis, a Hardy and Hyde-Addison parent, declined the request sent to parents. "I like Dana Nerenberg. I like her as a person -- she is pleasant, energetic and well-meaning. But sending her to Hardy was a terrible decision that has had extremely detrimental consequences for both schools." Ellis' 7th-grade daughter transferred from the prestigious Holton-Arms School in Bethesda to attend Hardy last year, but now questions the decision. "She said, 'I don't want to go to Hardy anymore. There is too much chaos and disorder' -- those are the words of a 12-year-old," Ellis said. "She said she doesn't want to go back if Ms. Nerenberg is still there." Ellis has sent four children to Hyde-Addison and Hardy over the past eight years, including his 7th-grader, a straight-A student.

"If you walk up to the school, you will see kids in front of the school hanging out in the morning acting crazy. You just didn't see that before," Ellis said. "Just the level of chaos. Fighting and bullying. I wouldn't send my son to Hardy. I don't think it would be safe for him -- kids getting jumped, fights and what have you. There is neither fear of nor respect for the leadership."

Tuesday, Hardy promoted a media-ready event for students with karate and fitness expert John Mirrione of New York to address bullying. In a letter to parents, Nerenberg wrote, "Bullying has been identified as a challenge in schools across the country as students are unaware of potential harmful affects." (sic)  The letter continued, "Sensei Mirrone (sic) will perform his one-arm, bare-knuckle push-up performance to motivate Americans about the growing concern for bullying." 

Signs declaring a No Bully Zone (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Signs declaring a No Bully Zone

"It's a publicity stunt," said Ellis, an attorney. "It is utterly ridiculous." Ellis declined to sign the media waiver/permission slip required for attendance. About 40 of Hardy's 525 students turned in permission slips to attend the program designed to accommodate 160, school sources said. Nerenberg did not attend, as she typically works at the school on Mondays and Fridays in order to be at Hyde-Addison Tuesday through Thursday.

"How is this program going to address the bullying issues at Hardy, which is a school-wide problem?" asked parent Mia Pettus. "It's a problem that never existed at Hardy until this year under Nerenberg and her team."

"We have never had the problems of discipline before that we're having now," Pettus, the mother of a 7th-grade boy, added. "I'm not saying we never had an incident, but Mr. Pope knew how to handle it. Now the teachers are having to fend for themselves."

Nerenberg's letter expressed optimism in the karate effort to address the school's problems. "We are very excited about this presentation and are looking forward to more opportunities to discuss bullying with our students and reinforce our Bully-Free Zone."





0 Comments For This Article

Allan Assarsson, Former Hardy Parent

Want another viewpoint? Go to Bill Turque’s Washington Post blog, DC Schools Insider at the following web address:

Mr. Turque has been played like a piano by the Washington Post management, editorial board, and their favorite education reformer, Michelle Rhee. Now, Kaya Henderson is in charge, at least figuratively, as Rhee's close friend and always-reliable surrogate. These are the critical sources that Turque must cultivate; not Patrick Pope. Rhee even invented a school to serve as a Trojan horse to usher him out the door, and Turque wrote much about this proposed Magnet Arts Middle School as being a serious effort, even though it was preposterous on its face.

DCPS central office will support principal Dana Nerenberg until the day they say she is finished at Hardy, and that day will come much sooner than most people think. The politics are toxic, and the rationalizations that DCPS has used to support Nerenberg are starting to jeopardize the career’s of both interim Chancellor Henderson and instructional superintendent Eric Redwine. A major announcement about the leadership at Hardy is imminent (probably tomorrow), that will once again show that school reform in DCPS is not a collaborative process, but purely a political one. No one at Hardy will know what hit them … again!

For those who think it is wise to start a popularity contest between principals Pope and Nerenberg, like the one being stoked up by some parents and DCPS, it will be even more divisive. Chancellor Rhee made this administrative change with absolutely no input from the Hardy community one year ago, and he was overwhelmingly popular with teachers, staff and families. As a recent Hardy parent who also has heard very disturbing descriptions of Nerenberg’s style of leadership from Hyde-Addison parents last year, I can confidently say that there will be no winner in this game of chicken.

My wife and I pulled our 7th grader out of Hardy MS this year, as did many other in-boundary parents with a very close view of the new administration. And next year many more will follow. This is a tragedy of the greatest order, as the once functional community fabric of this school will not be reestablished for years to come.

The efforts of DCPS and future principal Nerenberg towards transition were virtually non-existent. And no one with an intimate knowledge of the first weeks of this school year could deny that the new administrative team poisoned their relationship with the vast majority of teachers and many long standing Hardy families through provocative and inept behavior that is mind-boggling. The parents and teachers want the best for their children, and every reasonable effort to work with and assist the new administration in collaborative efforts has been made. No one has tried to sabotage the interests of their children because of some misguided affection for principal Pope as has been suggested. The failures at Hardy this year are a clear consequence of the current administration's poor judgment and non-collaborative approach to both teachers and families within the Hardy community.

There are certainly children who can learn and enjoy Hardy today, but this is not close to being the well functioning school it was a year ago. It is a mess, and to say otherwise in the face of the intervention that DCPS announced last week is ludicrous.

The problems at Hardy MS are indicative of a much larger system-wide problem; namely that school communities are being disenfranchised while at the same time DCPS speaks about their intentions to include stakeholders. This type of empty rhetoric is exactly what Mayor Gray said he was going to address, by making his government more responsive to communities. At town hall meetings in every ward of the city, mayor-elect Gray said that he will demand accountability from DCPS leadership. The intervention needed at Hardy cannot be confused with “micro-managing our schools,” it is about the accountability of our leaders, both at DCPS and the Wilson Building, to protect the interests of our children.

Eric Woods

Again, the Dish is on the front lines with evidence-based, accurate reporting of the circus surrounding Hardy. Wow! The Communications office of Chancellor Henderson in pursuit of parents for a letter writing campaign to WaPo editors, the DCPS team bedfellows, to shift the momentum in their favor! Just how far will the Chancellor’s Office go to find parental support for it’s poor decision to remove Mr. Pope and install Ms. Nerenberg? When will Ms. Henderson recognize this failed Hardy experiment is having a detrimental effect on the spirits of hundreds of bright Hardy students like Mr. Ellis’ daughter and my two children? After all, Mr. Ellis and his family are the precise profile of what DCPS is attempting to attract: families that pulled their high-performing children out of private school and sent them to DCPS to help raise test scores.

Despite more than sufficient evidence for immediate removal following so many documented missteps, Ms. Nerenberg and her team remain at Hardy. I must now question Ms. Henderson’s judgement and fitness as Chancellor. Is she really tone deaf to the pleas of students, teachers, and current and prospective parents? She is if she replaces Ms. Nerenberg and installs another principal unknown to, and without input from, key stakeholders. She is if she leaves Ms. Nerenberg and team in place much longer. She needs to end the madness her office created by operating from the standpoint that the Chancellor knows best and that we need to just accept her judgement. The track record of Ms. Henderson’s judgement to date on this Hardy matter fails to merit our trust.

Ken Archer


I really appreciate your investigative reporting on issues of concern to Georgetowners, most recently the Chuck Brodsky issue.

Unless I'm mistaken, however, you haven't quoted or referred to any Hardy parents who are happy with the school this year, even though Georgetown Patch and the Georgetown Current have quoted these parents.


She's gone:
Posted at 11:04 AM ET, 01/26/2011
D.C. to move Hardy Middle School principal
By Bill Turque

DCPS has decided to move Hardy principal Dana Nerenberg out of her post, culminating more than a year of turmoil at the Georgetown school. A senior school system source said Wednesday morning that students will bring a letter home today announcing that Nerenberg will resume her fulltime duties as principal at Hyde-Addison Elementary within the next one to two weeks. Nerenberg has been running both schools since the beginning of the academic year.


I'm not a reporter,and I have no school children to worry about, but with due respect, I am jarred that you ask The Dish to take an arbitrator-type approach to this situation and ask The Dish to pole parents and children as to whether they are happy or unhappy. Does this mean that essentially you are tone-deaf to the seriousness of the central problem itself? When a building is on fire, you don't say sure, part of the roof collapsed, but not the whole thing. Keep this in mind. Further, notice how long the powers that be have felt it acceptable that the school have a principal on Monday and Fridays only,and yet another whole school to plan for and look after on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Turnarounds occur when the strong, caring principal is standing at the school door every morning, and knows kids by their first names. And that, of course is just for starters. Please expect more. The community needs the kind and respectful person that you seem to be.


Mr. Assarsson: You claim that “the new administrative team poisoned their relationship with the vast majority of teachers and many long standing Hardy families through provocative and inept behavior that is mind-boggling.” In your comment you ignore the 5 months after the new principal was named while Mr. Pope was still running the school in which he did nothing other than poison the well for the new administration. Instead of supporting the new administration like a DCPS employee should do, he encouraged a group ofloyalists to run a “Hope for Pope” campaign by putting up those signs in the school, allowing for meetings to be held on school grounds and for students to miss school to hold rallys. By he way, such behavior would never have been allowed if it was parents opposing a management decision made by Mr. Pope. Theose students would have been disenrolled from the school for attempting to disagree with Mr. Pope.
You also seem to be concerned about the school community being disenfranchised. I can tell you as a former Hardy parent (while Mr. Pope was there) that he is the king of disenfranchising parent and community involvement, unless it means him calling parents to get them to send in letters in support of him getting some award. Yes, Mr. Pope made many of those calls to boost his own ego. While I was there, Mr. Pope did not allow a school directory to be distributed (which would allow parents to communicste easier with each other), did not have a student government (so students could empower themselves to learn about leadership and make decisions in the school), forbid peer mediation (although it was mandated in DCPS), and even disallowed the public from the LSRT meeting. His LSRT Community Rep was typically a parent he appointed who had no real connection to the Georgetown community.
If you think for a minute that bringing back Mr. Pope will result in having a principal who will engage parents and students in a collaborative, respectful manner, think again. Hardy can do much better than that.


Anonymous1: Why would a man like Mr. Pope support his own removal and a new administration coming in. The :Hope 4 Pope slogan also was not created by Mr. Pope or encouraged by him. A group of students (one my sister) created that. I would know because I am a student at Rose L. Hardy Middle School. And your comment about their never being a student government, the idea was encouraged but it never was gone through with. So next time before making a comment like this check with the students.


What I find fascinating is that I never heard any of this awful stuff about Pope last year, as closely as I was following this story when Pope was getting the boot.

I guess the smear team wasn't needed when the story line was that Pope was going to plan another Arts school.

Now that that lie no longer holds up, the goons arrive to deliver a little character assassination.

Anything but admit error, I suppose.

Not such a wonderful lesson for the children.




The fact is that those things stated by Anonymous1 are true about Mr. Pope. Can you deny that it took place? You can call it smear if you want but you are just saying that to avoid addressing the issues raised regarding his inappropriate behavior. As for student government, if Mr. Pope valued that as an activity at Hardy, he would have made it happen.


If the Rhee-Henderson Fiasco is not eradicated and these evil wrongs undone , all schools and children are at the mercy of the billionaire bullies and their henchmen.. No school system and district that values it's young would allow the Fenty,Reinoso,Rhee, Henderson satanic machine near it . Thank goodnes Fairfax, Montgomery, Arlington, Howard and other great systems don't let madmen/women come near their children .Cut the Defecit ! Get rid of ALL RHEEFORMERS NOW !



You have the right to disagree, but as a Hardy student of 2 years, and having talked to A LOT of students, parents, etc. that have ties to Hardy, I REALLY know what it was like to have Mr.Pope as the principal and how it is now. Mr.pope was the greatest. HE knew everything going on in the school, and he knew everything about the children. It would not be uncommon for you to see him in the halls as your walking to class and he would ask you: "How is your little sister doing, (someone)? Is she back in school yet?" or "How's that home renivation going (someone)?" He was very friendly and you could always talk to him about anything. This is exactly why there was never any need for a student government. If you had a problem, you could just go right up to Mr.Pope to talk to him about it. And if you didn't get your conversation done before the bell rang, Mr.Pope made sure he got back to you by the end of the school day to make sure everything was ok. And there was never any searching for Mr.Pope like you have to do now when you want to go find him, you always knew he was in the hall way somewhere making sure everything was just right. (Isn't that funny, there are four principals now, and if you want to talk to them you either can't find them or they don't have time to talk to you!) Personally I think this is a stupid argument to make against Mr.Pope, almost a little petty to say that he was not a good principal because he didn't have a student government....what, are you guys running out of bad things to say about Mr.Pope??

I have nothing against any of the principals now, but, from a students view, they just aren't meant to run a school. There is a lack in real leadership and respect for the school, and administrators there now. In most cases, when a student is confronted by an administrator, they totally disrespect them and disregard what they say because they know that the administrators aren't going to do anything.