Hardy parents erupt over Chancellor's letter

Photo by The Georgetown Dish
Hardy Middle School is beseiged by conflict between administrators and parents
Hardy Middle School is beseiged by conflict between administrators and parents

Hardy Middle School parents erupted Tuesday in response to a letter from Hardy Principal Dana Nerenberg and Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson sent home to parents, prompting some to call for Nerenberg's resignation.

The letter -- coming after months of unrest at the school and recent disciplinary problems in the wake of the removal of Principal Patrick Pope by Fenty administration Chancellor Michelle Rhee -- describes new administrative measures to be instituted by Nerenberg such as a "grade level tally system" (sic),  "layering in a series of administrative consequences," a "School Climate Task Force," and "School Scheduling Task Force," in addition to calling in the "D.C. Office of Youth Engagement" to "build upon Hardy's strengths" and address parents' concerns.

The letter "angered the vast majority of Hardy families because they do not reflect the current condition of the school as they know it to be," said Allan G. Assarsson, a DCPS parent activist.

Parents say the school is besieged by disciplinary, schedule and morale problems, including a fire in the school set by a student and at least one incident of inappropriate disciplinary action by a teacher. "My son says he doesn't want to go to school at Hardy anymore," said Sherry Woods, whose son and daughter are straight-A students there. The school received national media attention in the fall when a "sex test" involving graphic and advanced sexual practices was

Hardy students Miranda and Malachi Woods with their mother Sherry Woods (Photo by: The Fight Back) Hardy students Miranda and Malachi Woods with their mother Sherry Woods
administered to 12-year-olds without parental consent, as reported in The Georgetown Dish.

The PTA announced what the Washington Post described as an "emergency meeting" Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 pm at Hardy, located at 34th and Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown.

Interim Chancellor Henderson has said she has no plans to replace Nerenberg, and that DCPS is finalizing a plan it will announce this week "to ensure a safer and more positive student experience at Hardy."

"They're bringing in layers of bureaucracy and multiple government agencies instead of solving the problem," said Woods, adding, along with other parents, that Nerenberg's dual responsibilities as principal of both Hyde-Addison Elementary -- where she has been highly-regarded -- and Hardy are too much for one person.  "Why can't you just say this is not working and admit you made a mistake?" Instead, she said, school administrators have "bypassed the parents once again." 

"Interim Chancellor Henderson's answer is to pile more money and personnel into Hardy, but not address the fundamental distrust that her actions continue to inflame," echoed Assarsson. "Hardy Middle School is suffering from the severe incompetence of the administrative team installed by Chancellor Rhee this past year."

Hardy parents and students plan to "converge" on the office of Mayor Vincent Gray Friday morning after meeting on Freedom Plaza at 9:00 in front of the John A. Wilson Building housing the offices of the Mayor and D.C. Council.

A group of parents met with Nerenberg and Cluster 5 instructional superintendent Eric Redwine Friday to air their latest grievances, which include her handling of a hallway fight and three allegations of corporal punishment involving the same teacher, according to Bill Turque of The Washington Post.

"The rapid degeneration of the school over the past four months has been well understood by the greater Hardy community, who have made every effort to work within the system to address their concerns. Today there is a sense of desperation and betrayal that has overtaken hope," Assarsson said.


0 Comments For This Article


I was absolutely SHOCKED when my daughter gave me a copy of the new Hardy "Plan." I was even more shocked to see that in the letter you state that "Working together, we have developed a plan...". The "we" refers to the previous sentence about "parents, teachers and students". Nothing could be further from the truth. This is YOUR plan Ms. Henderson.

Our mayor, the Honorable Vincent Gray ran on a platform of integrity. As an appointee of the Mayor, I would have thought that those he appointed had integrity as well, but I guess I was wrong. As a member of the LSRT and an active member of the PTA I can firmly say that the parent leadership body of Hardy Middle School was NOT involved in this ill-conceived plan and to state that we were is a complete lie.

Fed Up

Ms. Henderson, It is time for you to face the fact that the leadership you currently have in the building is not capable of running a middle school. The parents and teachers have tried to work with the appointed administration. Just like the previous Chancellor, you say you want input but in the end you do what you want to do. Now, we are holding you accountable for the decline and deteriorating climate of Hardy Middle School, which was up until six months ago, the District's premier middle school. Someone has got to start holding you accountable for your actions and inaction.


The first clue that the letter was not written with community input is that it doesn't make sense. It is written in vague eduspeak. See a copy of the letter in the comments section of the Post article about hardy:

Please if some Hardy parents did participate in drawing up this plan, let them step forward and explain what it means and how it will solve the current problems at Hardy.

Peter Rosenstein

It would be my hope that Chancellor Henderson doesn't make Hardy a test ground for continuing Chancellor Rhee's policies but rather treat it as an individual problem that has to be solved.

I think it would be important for the community to understand why Principal Pope was dismissed, and then know what he is doing now that is more important than his role at Hardy. If there are legitimate reasons for his dismissal and he is now doing important work while being paid by DCPS then I think people would be more amenable to moving forward.

Thus far neither of those explanations has been forthcoming.

Out-of-the-loop retiree

Could someone give a summary of the actual issues underlying the concern? And, if possible, how various groups line up in regards to the issues.


Confused, but interested

The Tatler

ms rhee was introduced yesterday by gov chris christy of new jersey during his state of the state address. she will do an excellent job for the children of new jersey, just like she did for the kids of DC


@ Out of the loop retiree - Hardy students are no longer welcomed to take educational field trips to a downtown museum after a recent trip in which the students terribly misbehaved and lacked supervisory control; you have numerous issues of complaints to DCPS's downtown office concerning grading procedures and policies that are not conducive to a child's learning and understanding of the curriculum; Ms. Nerenberg is present at the "Middle School" only a small percentage of her time, and is therefore unable to attend to the serious, educational, and serious needs of the middle schoolers. These are all issues that were not tolerated on former Principal Patrick Pope's watch. I would go on but the article along with the few examples should suffice.

mark lance

I'm a former Hardy parent (and Hyde). I worked on the PTA with Mr Pope in 2006 and 2007. Hardy, under Mr Pope was not only one of the very most functional schools in all of DCPS, but one of the most diverse as well - both racially and economically. There was wide parental involvement, and student commitment. Mr Pope was not always the easiest man to work with. At times he was a bit dogmatic and that probably rubbed some the wrong way. We had a couple heated discussions. But he always kept the school safe and efficient. He succeeded in creating a climate in which the children learned - not only succeeding on standardized testing better than almost every DCPS school, but in bringing a wide range of enriching programs. And he cared deeply about the welfare of his students. He was competent, caring, and intelligent, and he got results.

Why Rhee would ever have thought it a priority to focus on Hardy, given the many completely dysfunctional DCPS schools is a mystery. One hesitates to conclude that it was pandering to rich upper NW parents, but given that this was the consistent MO of Fenty, and the absence of any other explanation, it is hard to avoid that explanation.

In any event, it is now clear that the changes have been a crashing failure. Hardy is in danger of sliding into the sort of mess that plagues so many schools in DCPS. Look - there is no shame in admitting that an experiment didn't work. I, for one, am not looking for "I told you so's". Just face reality. This was a failure. The idea that Pope was designing a magnet school was an obvious lie from the beginning. So bring him back and let him put Hardy back where it belongs.

Sherry Woods

Dear Out-of-the-Loop,

Basically, a highly affective Principal,(Patrick Pope) from a high performing middle school was removed largely because a group of parents, whose children did not attend Hardy - weren't comfortable with him. Former Chancellor Rhee hid her true intentions to appease these parents and claimed she was reassigning him to head up a new arts-magnet school. For which, even our new Mayor clearly stated there were no funds for...... Rhee put Ms. Nerenberg in place at Hardy while she also principals Hyde-Addison. Parents were not included with this decision at any level.

The result of attempting to lead two schools with very different developmental and academic needs, (elementary vs. middle school)has resulted in declines in a number of areas at Hardy that secure a positive learning environment. In spite of the fact that Ms. Nerenberg brought in THREE full-time Assistant principals to assist her from the beginning.

So, those of us who have children at Hardy, and who care about it's future, (LSRT, PTA and other individual parents) simply want a solution that is fair and this in not complex. Allow Ms. Nerenberg to return to Hyde-Addison full time and be the affective leader is was there, and give the Hardy students back their affective leader who can serve the school full-time. Half-time anything does not truly serve our children.

It would apppear that getting Ms. Nerenberg additional support from varied agencies has taken priority over the issue at hand.... the education of our children.


This is part of the continuing plan to turn all DC public schools into charter schools as proposed and carried out by Michelle Rhee and now by Kaya Henderson. Make the parents so angry that they either withdraw there kids allowing DCPS to close the school and give it to a charter or the parents band together and vote to make the school a charter either way it is certainly not putting children first


Mr.Pope isn't doing anything more important than running Hardy. He is supposed to be plaining a new magnet-school, that, according to Mr.Gray, will never happen because there is not enough money in the budget for it! The school system barely makes it along with the schools they have already; why would they make a new one?! Plus if they want a new magnet-school, they should use Hardy! It has all the components of a magnet-school, without the name. That way the school system can have their magnet-school and hardy gets Mr.Pope back, and it also won't cost money to the school system because Hardy already exist, there's no need to plan for a new one!

So with no money in the budget for a new school, I wonder what Mr.Pope is doing in, and what he works on these days. When we find out that, then other people can better evaluate what's going on at Hardy. It's horrible what's going on there...just bring Mr.Pope back! the chancellor keeps trying to pore money into the horrible administration there, when she could just put him back at no cost to her!


I was at Gray town hall meeting at the old Armstrong building . A Hardy student and talked abou the problems they had and that she wanted Mr. Pope back beacuse he ran the school successfully. I voted for Gray because I wanted him to change the leadership of DCPS because this leadership had not regard for the community.Every time I ride pass the park were Bruce-Monroe stood I get angry the community was lied too. Put Mr.Pope back if the budget is limited you can not afford another charter.Bruce Monroe is destroyed you can not get it back unless you have more money. Mr. Pope removal was a mistake you can correct this mistake.LISTEN TO THE COMMMUNITY do not continue down the same path to please a few people that would never put ther children in public school any way.


I applaud the Hardy parents and students who are taking a stand! Trust me, the entire city is watching. Especially those parents and students who reside in the most distressed areas of the city. It is so unfortunately, on so many levels, that Hardy has been "allowed" to deteriorate in such a seemingly short period of time. Please note that this isn't the first time that a highly performing school has been "allowed" to deteriorate so that the only option avaialble is to "re-tool" it completely to pacify a segement of the citizenry whose students do not yet attend DCPS. Talk to the parents at Eastern! Again, stand your ground and demand fairness and excellence for all!

Parent at Hyde-Addison

The article cites:
" that Nerenberg's dual responsibilities as principal of both Hyde-Addison Elementary -- where she has been highly-regarded -- and Hardy are too much for one person."

As a parent with a child at Hyde Addison, I can state that Ms Nerenberg's role there has not been without significant controversy. Decisions seem to be made unilaterally and presented as fait accompli, with letters sent after the decision has been made, with such language that suggests a broad coalition of parents, administrators, and teachers. That couldn't be further from the case.

Parent's concerns seem to be routinely dismissed, with an attitude that "we know what is best for your children". This type of patronizing communication has served only to alienate and frustrate parents who are willing to use considerable time resources to contribute to making the school a better place for all.

An inability to listen to parents, to have a transparent decision making process, and to have a genuine desire to harness the abilities of all to benefit the school and students as a whole, seems to be a recurring pattern at Hyde, and it appears, at Hardy.

Undoubtedly the intention to help the students is real; unfortunately it seems ego undermines the process.


You have Mr. Pope just floating around doing absolutely nothing and you have the current principal handling two schools. I would think that the principals' union would have an issue with that remedy. As for Gray, what are you waiting for...do the Hardy parents have to throw hand-dancing party to get your attention? I do honestly believe where there's smoke there's fire and Hardy is just the tip of the ice-berg as other schools are in similar turmoil. Quite frankly, Hardy wants the former principal to return and some at Eastern want the current principal not to leave. So, go figure.

Allan Assarsson, Former Hardy Parent

This Post verifies many of the stories I heard from Hyde-Addison parents last year when it was announced that Dana Nerenberg was appointed by Rhee to succeed principal Pope. There have been others who have said this is not the Dana they know.

My personal experience at Hardy, however, has led me to the same conclusions about her non-deliberative, and often patronizing style. At Hardy, Nerenberg has also claimed the support from stakeholders that were actually completely unaware that decisions were being made on their behalf.

While I agree that the intention to help may be real, there is a also a pattern of deliberate manipulation, misrepresentation and concealment of information from teachers and families. I believe that principal Nerenberg may lack confidence in, or be incapable of establishing collaborative relationships. This is especially evident when she was interacting with experienced teachers. Unfortunately, this characteristic was also a hallmark of Chancellor Rhee.


I work at Central office Mr Pope is just sitting around doing nothing It's to much like right to send Mr Pope back to Hardy MS .think about this all of the schools mostly have New Leaders For New School running them Kaya Doesn't want to change that because of the bond to NLFS & Rea . It won't be long until Mayor Gray will say Enough is Enough Hendeson your Fired she just putting things in place for Rea s new Project .Come on Mayor step up and make the change like the people did. For you Get rid of Kaya Henderson

Hyde-Addison is Suffering too

All is not well at Hyde-Addison. Dana promised a small, welcoming school with top quality academics. Now that we are there, she is changing the rules: 30 kids in a classroom (she says that is just fine), split classroom (that means one teacher teaching two grade-levels of content to 25-30 kids from two different grades) and no sibling preference (she has told parents of existing students that they need to assume the younger siblings will not get into Hyde in the fall). None of this is good for our kids, good for our families or good for the community. It is not sound academics. I agree having 3 principals at 2 schools isnt working not to mention a waste of one resource. Sorry, Hardy parents--I'm hoping she goes to Hardy and Hyde-Addison gets a new principal.


It is the attitude of some represented here on this comment board that is preventing Hardy from addressing the concerns being raised. At the PTA meeting last week, everyone nodded their heads and agreed that all the parents, teachers and administration need to work together to address the issues with scheduling and behavior. It was stated repeatedly that Pope is not coming back and that parents need to move forward. However, it's clear that a small group of parents simply left the room and ran to the comment boards to continue to try and stir up trouble, believing if they create enough unrest, they can still get Pope back. These parents have no interest in moving forward and their attitude is as much to blame for the behavior issues as anything else, since the kids are clearly taking their cues from the adults. You want the concerns with Hardy to be addressed? Get off the comment boards and stop running to Fox news. Start making constructive suggestions for dealing with the current reality at the school.


For the record, parents have tried to "move on" after Pope, and there have been countless efforts to make constructive suggestions. One of them was a parent lead Discipline Task Force that would collaborately work with teachers and the administration to begin to tackle the issues that Hardy is facing. However, before this could even get off the ground, Ms. Nerenberg and Chancellor Henderson undermined the efforts of parents AND parent voices by rolling out a disciplinary plan that had absolutely NO participation of parents OR teachers but appeared to be a collaboration because they called in the forces of various DCPS and DC Gov't agencies. Add to this, asking our kids to sign an agreement before we could see it? This approach is not a best practice in getting parents to buy into a new program or create a connection between what is happening in school with support needed from home.

I have a great deal of interest in moving forward largely in part because it is what's best for our children and because I have a younger child who I had planned to send to Hardy. But at the risk of the readers thinking that I am running to the comment boards,I will not send my child to Hardy next year if the current leadership remains and this is not about Mr. Pope. Rather, it's about beleiving that parents should have a voice in the education of their children and that the educational environment their children are attend reflects the values and character that we work hard to put into our children. It's about the right leader for the right school who can support its mission and move it forward. Ms. Nerenberg is not the right leader for Hardy and this has nothing to do with Pope but perhaps if Chancellor Rhee had followed due process and allowed for parent input on principal selection, this would have been discovered and we wouldn't need the comment boards to be heard.

Lastly, to suggest that the children are acting out because they are "clearly" taking their cues from the adults is far from the truth. What you are missing here is that Hardy had a unique structure with clear expectations that paved the way for any child to succeed. I suspect that that is exactly why you chose Hardy in the first place. Take the structure away, make the expectations foggy, shut out the parent in-put and what will you get? The "current reality" of Hardy and let's not forget that in order for constructive suggestions to take on meaning one would have to assume that the recipient of these suggestions wants them, asked for them or welcomes them. This is just not the case with the current leadership at Hardy.