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Editorial: Gray must lead on Hardy

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.