Editorial: Gray must lead on Hardy

Photo by The Georgetown Dish
Hardy Middle School has been rife with disciplinary problems since the abrupt removal of Principal Patrick Pope
Hardy Middle School has been rife with disciplinary problems since the abrupt removal of Principal Patrick Pope

The Education Reform Act of 2007 put control of the District's school system squarely in the hands of the Mayor. Former Mayor Adrian Fenty turned over the portfolio to Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who approached school reform by symbolically holding a broom.

Sweeping out the bad may be the beginning of education reform. Building good schools -- with a parent, student and stakeholder population working together to succeed -- is exponentially more difficult. Despite great capacity and intelligence, Rhee created staunch enemies everywhere, ultimately causing division and decisive electoral defeat.

But that's history. Now, it's Vincent Gray's turn to lead. Starting last spring, as reported in The Georgetown Dish, Gray heard the mounting concern, then frustration, of parents, students and teachers dealt a devastating blow by "school reform." They woke up one day to learn that their Principal -- the man who built Hardy from a small, unknown backwater of the system 12 years ago into a standard-setting lodestar in terms of test scores, awards, and world-class arts programs -- would be summarily removed without explanation or comment. Hardy parents, whose commitment to their children's education was in fact one of the criteria for admission to the school, were angry. Parents across Georgetown who had seen Mr. Pope transform Hyde Elementary into a sought-after school -- and work miracles at Hardy with his passion and dedication -- were stunned. How could it be?

Since Mr. Pope's sudden removal, unprecedented disciplinary problems have set in at Hardy. The class schedule, in the eyes of many, is a mess. For the first time in memory, no holiday concert took place. Longtime supporters of Hardy are looking elsewhere for middle school options. An institution of excellence is disintegrating in plain view.

When Pope was dismissed, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, then a candidate for Mayor, said he agreed with the legions of parents and students who wanted Pope back. Repeatedly saying he "couldn't understand" why Pope would be removed, Gray wrote a letter to Fenty, naming Pope specifically, stating "the school’s current leadership represents the best of the District of Columbia Public schools and should be continued in its current state.”

As Gray's longshot Mayoral campaign turned into a dead heat, the challenger encouraged the movement to restore Principal Pope. He invited Hardy students to testify before the Council. Hardy parents and students campaigned for Gray, put signs in their yards, raised money and volunteered. They supported Gray with the passion they felt for their Principal. Gray's courageous statements won fans and votes.

But since the election, Gray has said virtually nothing about Hardy. His Interim Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, has blundered badly by repeatedly sticking public relations band-aids on a situation that is hemorrhaging into crisis.

As Henderson prepares to name an Interim Principal -- as early as today -- The Georgetown Dish offers the following recommendations:

1. Select Patrick Pope as Interim Principal while a thorough, fair process is conducted to choose permanent leadership OR select an temporary Interim while candidates including Pope are considered in the thorough legal process developed to include community input in this critical choice.

2. Include ANC Commissioners, parents, the PTA and LSRT, students and teachers in the Principal Selection Process. In Georgetown, such a process has been conducted successfully numerous times.

3. Don't destabilize Alice Deal Middle or other excellent schools (like Hyde-Addison) by plucking interim leadership for Hardy from these fragile success stories.

4. Run the best, most professional, organized Principal Selection Process ever seen.

Hardy was not broken when Pope was removed -- but it is now falling apart fast. Gray and Henderson have a window of opportunity to stabilize the school, calm the students, parents and teachers, and restore Hardy to excellence by leading a fair process that allows Pope's achievements and qualities to be fairly judged by those who depend on Hardy most.

Make no mistake, this is Gray's problem, not just Henderson's. Further inaction, obfuscation, denial and public relations moves will lead to a different result at Hardy -- the creation of the first serious citywide opposition to Mayor Vincent Gray.  

0 Comments For This Article

Mr. Sunukjian

This Hardy teacher fully agrees. Mr. Pope is the most qualified administrator available for Hardy Middle School. Something so obvious should make Gray's decision easy.

Anonymous

What a great editorial. We can only hope Gray is listening.

guylady20010

Gray needs to find some.

What happened to "children first". DCPS administrators are truly stuck on stupid for dragging this disgusting mistake out.

Can the parents sue the city for messing with the education of their children by these childish games.

Anonymous1

When did Gray (or Georgetown Saucer for that matter) become professional administrators of educational institutions? They are not but the person Gray hired for the position - Ms. Henderson is. It is her decision and you need to let her make it.

You say he was removed summarily without explanation or comment. Funny, but that is exactly Mr. Pope's management style too. You also say that his removal was "sudden" but that is not true. Actually that is what they should have done - remove him immediately upon announcing that he was being replaced. Instead, he was kept on for months - which he spent poisoning the well of a school he supposedly loved. How is allowing "Hope for Pope" signs to adorn the hallways once the school management decided on a replacement helpful for a smooth transition in that school? As a DCPS employee, he should have worked to ensure a good transition instead of engaging in insubordination.

You want Mr. Pope back because he makes the trains run on time? If you get him back you would be getting the whole package - a person who has no use for parents unless it is in the form of a signature on the payeee line of a donation. You disagree with something he had done - if you are an out of boundary parent (like most of us) you either shut up or get ready to pack your bags back to your local school - regardless of the quality of the student. That is the type of enagement I am used to with Mr. Pope. He is much more interested in restricting information than sharing it.

Mr. Pope always believed he was above the law and broke city and school regulations regularly to advance his own agenda. We can and need to do better than that. I am confident that a search and interview progress will find one. I for one would never consider sending another one of my children to that school if there is any chance that Mr. Pope would return.

marie

I agree, Ms. Henderson was hired to run the schools but so far she is missing in action. Ms. Henderson is a paid government employee and should take the wishes of the majority into account when making decisions. If Rhee had practiced this simple rule of GOOD MANAGEMENT, HARDY WOULD NOT BE SUFFERING TODAY.

Let's face it, Henderson, Rhee and Fenty are poor example of good school administrators.

You obviously had or have problems with Pope and are not putting the education of Hardy's students first.

If you are so unhappy with the thought of Pope returning than perhaps YOU should send your child to the neighborhood school. You my friend are in the minority on this issue and you do have choices.

Anonymous1

Dear Marie:

Actually because of how poorly Mr. Pope treated parents and students while my child attended Hardy, I now DO send my middle school child to a neighborhood school - where I can have a meaningful conversation with the principal and engage in open dialogue at LSAT and PTA meetings without the fear of retribution if I voice an opinion or recommendation for change that is not consistent with that of the principal. When my child attended Hardy, Mr. Pope not only illegally closed an LSRT meeting to the public but expended a lot of his enegy trying to get a rule changed to allow him to do that on a regular basis. Is that the kind of engagement you want with your principal, Marie?

Yes. I do have the best interests of students at Hardy in mind when I say that bringing Mr. Pope back would not be in their best interests. Hardy can and will do a lot better without Mr. Pope. As for me being in the minority, first I am no so sure about that. Clearly I am not one of the loud members of the Pope sisterhood. Second, sometimes, as in this case, the people with the loud voices could learn something valuable by listening and considering what others have to say.

You have not given Ms. Henderson half a chance to do her job without calling for someone else to override her decisions. That is no way to run DCPS.

TellinTheTruth

Anonymous wrote:

"When did Gray (or Georgetown Saucer for that matter) become professional administrators of educational institutions?"

The problem with DCPS is that we haven't had "professional administrators of educational institutions" to head the school system since Janey left. Rhee had no experience in running a school, let alone a school system. Unfortunately, neither does Kaya Henderson---except for the experience she received while working under Rhee who contracted out as many job responsibilities as she could.

It's hard to trust the judgement of people who are inexperienced and in denial.

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