Editorial: on Hardy, Kaya Henderson must lead

Photo by dc.gov
Interim schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson
Interim schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson

For over a year, previously high-performing Hardy Middle School has been in turmoil over changes imposed on the school, students and parents.  First the abrupt removal of popular Principal Patrick Pope and the installation of a shared principal without the selection process described in D.C. law. Now, escalating discipline problems, the dissolution of an award-winning arts program and chaotic schedule overhauls have parents in revolt.

Former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee at a public forum (Photo by: RJSmith) Former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee at a public forum

Principal Dana Nerenberg, the Baltimore Teach for America graduate handpicked by fellow alum and controversial schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to replace Pope and who continues also as principal at nearby Hyde-Addison Elementary School, is struggling, unable to maintain discipline within the school or to work with parents who want Pope back.  DCPS interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson (another Teach for America graduate) has sent in a bevy of central office and D.C. government personnel to “help.” But in doing so, Henderson has actually undermined Nerenberg’s leadership and revealed the troubling belief that a public relations fix can solve Hardy's problems.

As the controversy escalates daily, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown has written a letter to Henderson urging her “to move forward immediately -- with the input of parents -- to adopt a plan that will restore the school to its previous, highly-regarded state, but also one that will transform Hardy into a school that will serve as a model for all of our city's middle schools." That letter was leaked to the media, as if to reassure increasingly outraged parents that the city's leadership is paying attention.

Will Henderson dogmatically stand by Rhee's multiple management errors or make changes that restore the experienced, high-caliber leadership that made Hardy a model school? So far, Henderson’s actions are highly reminiscent of Rhee’s communication gaffes with their heavy toll on credibility and public support. 

Hardy Middle School (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Hardy Middle School
Henderson's first strike has been lack of action at Hardy. The school's problems have been well-known for a year and have boiled over into crisis in the wake of Hardy's "sex test" fiasco in October. Henderson's second strike was co-signing with Nerenberg an insulting "plan" for the school earlier this month -- which was falsely claimed to have been crafted with broad parental input -- that instituted amaturish "behavioral tools" and called in bureaucrats including the D.C. Office of Youth Engagement. As if bureaucratic interlopers who don't know the students or the school could restore order and confidence when the school's top leadership has lost most of its credibility. 

Henderson is already losing the public relations battle and further undermining Nerenberg and her own administration in the process.  If she doesn’t act soon, Henderson will lose her capacity to lead the school system, even if Mayor Vincent Gray makes her appointment permanent.  More political leaders will feel the need to get involved, just as Chairman Brown already has, and we will move down the road to a more politicized, polarized DCPS. 

What can Henderson do? D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, at a regularly-scheduled "Chat with Cheh" Saturday, echoed widespread concerns: "It's not realistic to have a shared principal in this situation. Hardy deserves its own excellent leadership to inspire confidence -- a principal who can come in with an open mind to solve the school's problems with parents. I saw the steps that have been taken so far, but I don't think they address the issue."

Councimember Cheh and Chairman Brown join a growing chorus of parents and upset students whose pitch of frustration is on the verge of a breaking a glass. Hardy is a critical test for the would-be schools Chancellor. It is time for Kaya Henderson to lead.

0 Comments For This Article

francis ford

why in the world are you asking mary cheh re this issue? are we to soon rename this the mary cheh dish? enough already!

Anonymous

Hardy is in-boundary for many ward 3 families. Mary Cheh is the DC councilmember for ward 3

Parent of 2010 Hardy graduate

Our children ARE NOT game pieces! STOP playing with their lives. This volleying MUST STOP. Minimally, re-instate Pope to restore education and order AND THEN make an informed change of principal, if deemed necessary. This is crazy!

Anonymous

Kaya Hendersen like Rhee before her fails a basic test of competent leadership. She apparently is incapable of acknowledging a mistake and taking corrective action. Re-instate Pope is the obvious corrective action but the DCPS need to assert it's authority overrides all. The city has been regularly losing law suits which place agencies under court orders with special masters. How long before this happens with DCPS when if the article is accurate Rhee removed and replaced a principal ignoring a selection process required under DC law. Perhaps that's the real objective since Rhee , Hendersen and these other so called reformers goal is no less than the dismantling of public education believing that destroying public and replacing with private for profit free enterprise will somehow magically improve education.

Parent of a 2003 Hardy graduate

Patrick Pope was an amazing principal when my son attended from 2001-2003. What could have happened to change that, I can not imagine. Yes, bring him back.

Allan Assarsson, Former Hardy Parent

Very good reporting.

You give a relevant and concise history of Hardy that space allows; and the TFA bios of the principal DCPS players that is essential to understanding that our children are unwilling participants in an experiment in education reform perpetrated by ideologues who give no serious consideration to the opinions of the communities they serve.

This is an endemic problem with the new DCPS leadership whose resistance to peer review from established educational scientists and disdain for experienced educators is palpable. To them, Pope is considered "old school", and his resistance to some of the pop-education reform gimicks such as the 'Capital Gains Program' (paying children to go to school and behave) that Rhee wanted to impose at Hardy was not received well by the DCPS School's Chancellor.

The popular myth that reformers such as Rhee and Henderson continue to propagate is that 'public enemy number one' of successful schools are "bad" teachers and administrators who only survive because of union support. The facts, however, support the conclusion that it is NOT experienced teachers and administrators who are obstructing a collaborative approach to reform our public schools; but instead it is this too often patronizing, secretive and manipulative "New Guard" who are avoiding constructive engagement with stakeholders.

Your work shines a welcome light on the dysfunctional nature of school reform. I personally believe that at the most fundamental level our current DCPS leadership is severely unqualified.

By dismantling successful schools like Hardy, DCPS leaders unwittingly destroys the community and institutional fabric. They lack the skill to transform and evolve our schools with an appreciation that experience and relationship building are indispensable to this end. And sadly, even when they do enormous harm, they repeatedly demonstrate that they are incapable of understanding why, or accepting responsibility. Instead, they blame the school community for not understanding their grand scheme.

Allan Assarsson, Former Hardy Parent

Very good reporting.

You give a relevant and concise history of Hardy that space allows; and the TFA bios of the principal DCPS players that are essential to understanding that our children are unwilling participants in an experiment in education reform perpetrated by ideologues who give no serious consideration to the opinions of the communities they serve.

This is an endemic problem with the new DCPS leadership whose resistance to peer review from established educational scientists and disdain for experienced educators is palpable. To them, Pope is considered "old school", and his resistance to some of the pop-education reform gimmicks such as the 'Capital Gains Program' (paying children to go to school and behave) that Rhee wanted to impose at Hardy was not received well by the DCPS School's Chancellor.

The popular myth that reformers such as Rhee and Henderson continue to propagate is that 'public enemy number one' of successful schools are "bad" teachers and administrators who only survive because of union support. The facts, however, support the conclusion that it is NOT experienced teachers and administrators who are obstructing a collaborative approach to reform our public schools; but instead it is this too often patronizing, secretive and manipulative "New Guard" who are avoiding constructive engagement with stakeholders.

Your work shines a welcome light on the dysfunctional nature of school reform. I personally believe that at the most fundamental level our current DCPS leadership is severely unqualified.

By dismantling successful schools like Hardy, DCPS leaders unwittingly destroy the community and institutional fabric. They lack the skill to transform and evolve our schools with an appreciation that experience and relationship building are indispensable to this end. And sadly, even when they do enormous harm, they repeatedly demonstrate that they are incapable of understanding why, or accepting responsibility. Instead, they blame the school community for not understanding their grand scheme.

Parent of a current Hardy student

Reinstating Mr. Pope is not the answer. He was divisive and had no interest in reaching out to neighbors and making Hardy a community school, which is what it is supposed to be. Dana Nerenberg has been enormously successful at creating a thriving elementary school in Georgetown with a healthy mix of in-boundary and out-of-boundary students. By every measure -- enrollment, test scores, faculty retention, expansion of the educational program -- she has been enormously successful at Hyde-Addison. As an out-of-boundary parent who came from that school and now has a child at Hardy, I say it's time to give the new administration an honest chance to succeed.

incredulous

Problems that started a year ago, according to the story? A year ago Pope was still principal. I don't recall that when a successful principal of Wilson HS was brought downtown that the staff and parents of Wilson went to pieces at the injustice. If Pope had been offered a better paying principalship of a high school, he would have taken it. And Hardy would have a new principal this year. That DCPS let enrollment grow, resulting in a school population which is 50% new this year, driven by some parents who feel slighted, and under a principal who unaccountably did not give up her old job is just typical of Rhee administration.

Parent Activist

The biggest failing of the Rhee/Henderson team continues to be their inability to recognize and acknowledge mistakes and cut their losses. These are young and inexperienced leaders who are overly accustomed to success in their short careers.

It's okay to make mistakes. Everyone does. It's not okay to refuse to acknowledge and fix them.

Intervening at Hardy when there were so many other larger and more critical problems to address in DCPS was a mistake. They punished a leader who wasn't loyal enough to them, and installed a leader who was loyal and competent but is now in an impossible situation to manage.

It was a big mistake that just keeps getting bigger. Admit it, give Hardy its own leader and move on.

Anonymous

Dear Current Hardy Parent:

It's nice to hear that you have had a good experience with Dana Nerenberg. You made the comment that Pope had "no interest in reaching out to neighbors" I have two questions: 1) if you admit to coming to Hyde as an out-of-boundary parent what experience could you have had with Pope not reaching out to you since you don't live in the community? 2) If Dana Nerenberg is doing such a fine job with making Hardy a community school, please explain why she has reached out to every feeder school and arranged "buddy days" for them with the exception of John Eaton? Several Eaton parents find it offensive to have been overlooked when we view Hardy as a wonderful alternative to Deal's swelling halls.

The fact is, our Principal had to reach out to Dana and we were told there were no Buddy Days. Imagine our surprise to attend the Open House and learn that every other feeder school has one already scheduled. We can give all kinds of explanations for this but in the end it doesn't foster community to overlook, forget or ignore a feeder school.

dcteacher

There are many parents and faculty members that HAVE given the new administration a chance to succeed. But for many of the educators that have been at Hardy for a long time, we have seen decisions made that are not in the best interest of the students. We have participated in planning meetings since last school year, and have found that the elements required for success have been eliminated from the school. You are correct- reinstating Mr. Pope is not the answer. But allowing a once successful school to fall so far is unacceptable. Please, speak with the children and teachers to understand what is really happening.