Cheh Says Pope Should Not Return to Hardy

Photo by RJSmith
Councilmember Mary Cheh meets residents at the Glover Park Starbucks during a "Chat with Cheh"
Councilmember Mary Cheh meets residents at the Glover Park Starbucks during a "Chat with Cheh"
D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she opposes reinstating popular Hardy Middle School principal Patrick Pope at the respected D.C. school despite vocal student and parent protests against his removal by controversial schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

"We need to have a fresh step forward," Cheh said. "Going back would send the wrong signal," she told The Georgetown Dish in an interview at Starbucks in Glover Park Sunday.

Cheh voiced concern about schedule changes by principal Dana Nerenberg that have created new turmoil at Hardy since Pope's departure earlier this year, noting that Pope is "sitting around" at DCPS headquarters while Nerenberg's schedule is split between Hardy and Hyde-Addison Elementary, where she is also the principal.

Nonetheless, she said, reinstating Pope "would represent a step backward." Cheh said Hardy needs to move forward as an "inclusive community school."

The Councilmember, who won the Democratic primary Sept. 14 after running unopposed, was asked about a Washington Post editorial Saturday titled "Is there racism in school reform?" naming Hardy as "Exibit A in the indictment of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as caring little about the education of poor black children."

"I take all of that with a grain of salt, because I don't know whose voice that is coming out in those editorials," Cheh said.

While Mayor Adrian Fenty won majorities in Wards 2 and 3, Cheh said, "he was not the one to get us where we want to go."

Fenty "spent every dime and burned all his bridges," Cheh said, "alienating his natural allies." Democratic nominee Vincent Gray, whom she endorsed, will set the District "on the best path forward," she said. In addition to her regular "Chat with Cheh" events, the Councilmember is planning community meetings in the fall to include the new mayor and Ward 3 residents.

J. Darrow and Jeanne Kirkpatrick chat with Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh (Photo by: RJSmith) J. Darrow and Jeanne Kirkpatrick chat with Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh

0 Comments For This Article

teddy g

wow. is there a more out of touch council member? above all, one should represent the wishes of local constituents. i guess cheh didnt get the memo.

Anita Marsh

I disagree with Cheh. Re-instating Pope to Hardy will return stability to the school.

What about Hardy was not inclusive? That has always been the elusive and unanswered question. No one wants to say right out that Hardy's student population of African-Americans was disconcerting to white people. Cloaking racism from constituents will not make the issue fade away. Nor will your credibility and integrity with those elsewhere in the city be in tact.

Backwards was the idiotic decision to remove Pope. I haven't always agreed w/him but he's a good principal and has led the high school preparation that my child needed to move forward.

Everyone is changed from this horrific experience. I'm sure Pope is too.

Bring Pope Back to Hardy!


Hardy is going to HELL FAST. What is Cheh thinking? Who are you trying to suck up to?

I have a child at Hardy and what is taking place is a GIANT STEP BACK for the children of this once wonderful school.

Hardy Parent

Mr.Pope was replaced with four people, four. as a result the librarians hours were cut as were a janitor poosition and a cafeteria person. My child just got her correct schedule today, October 4 after having spent all this time as an 8th grader in 2 sixth grade classes. Ms. Nurenberg is a good person but I agree with Mr. Gray, it is too much and in this case too costly. Ms. Cheh is out of touch with her electorate and from the beginning has been unsupportive of Hardy. The very parents who complained in that small group to Ms. Rhee didn't even pick Hardy as their first choice. The school is still in chaos and there will be yet another big schedule change coming up.


Who but Chancellor Rhee could screw things up so badly? Enrollment swelled to 540 students from 420 last year, resulting in crowding, with over half the students being new to the school.

The school needed substantial support to control likely heel-dragging by teachers and parents protesting the departure of the old Hardy clan -- that would be the principal and several dead-heads and laggards he retained in sinecures as PE instructors, counselors, and in the front office. Positions where work was no more difficult than signing in and hanging around.

But, Rhee didn't deliver. Has she, anywere? The news about Hardy MS is about the only news about DCPS schools this year.

Returning Pope for stability? Something like a portion of Bagdad or any other portion of world under control of a clan having its clan leader reinstated.

Pope supporters have just done for their guy what Rhee supporters have done for her. I'll give Pope his well-deserved modesty, though.


It is amazing how the over person has no idea what the counselor or the front office personnel do. It would be best if you just wrote facts and not personnal opinions.

A Teacher with the Guts to Speak Up

The spirit and joy of teaching and learning across our city is eroding under Rhee.

It's easy for Mary Cheh to say that taking a step "backwards" (and rehiring Pope) is not a good idea. But when a step away from excellence has been taken, isn't it in the best interest of our students and community to admit a mistake is made, reverse that mistake and move forward? The Hardy community - the folks who know him best, can't be all wrong about Pope, can they?

Where's Patrick Pope's voice in all this? Does anyone know what the progress is on the school that Rhee said she wanted Patrick Pope to set up? Just listen to those who know Patrick Pope best. Go back and watch the testimonies at the DC Council's Hearings.

Rhee has not just failed Hardy. Unfortunately, Rhee's poor job performance is evident across this city. Her tenure has been riddled with poor judgment, questionable motives, cold-hearted means, intractability, rigidity and lack of transparency and accountability. Would Rhee ever take responsibility for any of her mistakes? Would she ever make amends for her poor judgment? Her failure at her job is replicated throughout our city's schools. We wouldn't accept Rhee's behavior of our own students; so why would we accept it of our adult leadership?

DC's schools have been infiltrated by what can arguably be described as a "dictatorship" run by minor functionaries (new principals and new teachers - clone-like creatures brought in by Rhee). Many veteran teachers and stakeholders across our city will recognize evidence of failure in the following scenario.

A school that has been seized and a staff silenced. Instead of scores going up, an insipid fear and fatigue have taken hold of the staff. Instead of closing the black/white gap, divisiveness. Instead of higher test scores, lower morale. Instead of respect, didain. Instead of challenge, unhealthy and oddly-motivated competition. Instead of substative, relevant and enlightening education, vacuous, culturally-blind "teaching"that has nothing to do with the school's reality. Intrinsic value, creativity, trust and autonomy, respect, joy and respect for teaching and learning have been replaced with fear and failure.

What does positive reform with the goal of excellence in education for all look like? If it doesn't look like substantive academics, intrinsic motivation, confidence and pride in work, supportive leadership, focus on process, sense of community, sharing, trust, honesty, respect, efficacy, ethical treatment, accountability, self-discipline, and relevancy - if it doesn't demonstrate these qualities, then it not positive reform.

And if it, instead, demonstrates deterioration of professional morale, mistrust, fear, divisiveness, focus on test scores then it it is failure. Is that what we really want for our students and professional educators?

Is Rhee's failure to inspire and oversee positive academic reform acceptable? Is it too much to ask our elected leadership to undo wrongs in order to move forward?

Positive reform? No. Rhee's work looks, smells and plays more like failure.


If there had been excellence at Hardy MS, supporters would and should have found documentation, not personal testimonials. It was a mediocre but safe middle school, with no evidence whatever of superior growth in academic achievement of students of any background. Patrick Pope was no more Superman than Rhee is Superwoman. Like every principal in this sick system, he maintained a program for students with special needs because the reimbursement rate schedule induced him to do so.

Indeed, where is the voice of Patrick Pope in this, if there is anything to the man as an educational leader. He made professional life hell for educators at Fillmore Arts Center. The greatest of ironies is that the commitment to arts education was no more than a hook to claim being special. This is the same man who tried to kill arts education at Hardy in favor of the for-profit Kumon Math drill-skill-kill program he allowed to operate in the Hardy building.

No more worthy of veneration than any number of Popes in the distant past. What dupes you are to think otherwise. If he'd been offered a principalship at a high school, which would have meant higher pay, he'd have been gone in an instant. Then what? The Hardy clan would have demanded the right to screen and reject any applicant?

The new principal came up the same way Pope did, through the small ethnically extremely diverse elementary school down the street. The only reason you don't give her your support is that she is OK with the lottery-based admissions which will the guarantee of spots the Hardy clan has been giving its family members.

Repeat: If Rhee is replaceable, so was Pope.

A Hardy Parent who favors kids over squirrels.....

Councilwoman Mary Cheh’s statements that reinstating Patrick Pope at Hardy MS would be a step backward and send a “wrong signal” indicate that she has not been paying attention to the educational concerns of District students. After all, she is introducing legislation that will protect squirrels and possums from residents’ in-the-home trapping methods while approving of the methods employed to disintegrate the academic environment at high performing Hardy MS. Thus, I am not surprised that Cheh seems more concerned with protecting wild animals than with defending the underserved children of the city.

Does Cheh really believe that the disarray and chaos that the Hardy students have experienced this school year is a step forward from the previous several years of stability, organization, school pride, and a respectful learning atmosphere? If Ms. Cheh is concerned about sending a “wrong signal,” what would she call new Principal Dana Nerenberg’s “scheduled” fire drill on September 15 that she employed to disrupt a student sit-in? The students sought to bring attention to major problems with the learning environment at the school directly related to her leadership. The students’ very real concerns – including a botched course scheduling process, 20-minute rushed lunch periods, and the use of a single staircase for all when changing classes during an allotted 3 minutes between classes – remain unaddressed. By abdicating her responsibility, Ms. Nerenberg sent a wrong signal to the kids: that her titular authority matters while their voices need to be silent. I know – I have two children at Hardy.

In contrast, Patrick Pope seems to have the interests of students and teachers foremost in his mind by creating an academic environment that produced high-performing students coming from every ward in the city. Mr. Pope isn’t perfect and he will be the first to say so. However, Pope is a leader who understands the true value in student diversity on a socio-economic level and sets high expectations for all students. His methods include undergirding Hardy teachers with the resources they need to be effective in the classroom and encouraging them to teach beyond the trap of “teaching to the test.” He believes in a well structured day and administrative systems and processes designed to maximize the student’s learning experience. Ms. Nerenberg is emerging to be his polar opposite.

The common thread linking Ms. Nerenberg and Councilmember Cheh appears to be that, when trapped, they both respond with actions they believe are politically face-saving. A true leader would demonstrate integrity by doing what’s best for the people impacted, based on previously communicated principles, and after having carefully listened to them. Reinstating Mr. Pope would save Hardy from the downward spiral of the current leadership. From where I stand, Councilmember Cheh and Ms. Nerenberg would treat our school children with more dignity and respect if they were squirrels. Or maybe they are just sending citizens “the wrong signal.”


If Principal Pope chose on his own to a "new position" the Hardy "clan" as you call us, would have supported him. And YES, we would have insisted on being a part of the new principal selection process - it is our right as a parent and teacher body. I have been a a part of principal selection committees before and while parents do not have the final say, our recommendation is carefully considered especially as it relates to leadership ability, school climate, and future planning. The bottom line here is that Hardy parents were shut out of a due process - that would have been upheld at Key or Hyde or Mann, Murch, Eaton and the list goes on.

Parent voice or not, Rhee already had a plan thanks to the original 12 GT parents who Rhee chose to listen, though they no children at Hardy. There is nothing fair or equitable about that and I firmly believe that if Hardy's parent body had been treated with some respect, we would have a totally different situation on our hands.