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Keeping Pope alive

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's office says its policy is to answer all letters. But after waiting nearly two months for a mayoral response, a group of about 120 seventh graders and teachers from Hardy Middle School decided on more direct action Thursday morning.

Their campaign started in the second week of December, a few days after Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced the replacement of popular principal Patrick Pope. The decision triggered bitter criticism from parents and faculty, who contended that Rhee was trying to squeeze African-American kids out of the newly renovated school. It's a charge vehemently disputed by Rhee. She said she wanted Pope to begin developing a new middle-school arts magnet elsewhere in the city and also hoped that the new leadership of Hardy, which is in Georgetown, could more effectively market the school to neighborhood families.

But Pope's ouster hit some of the kids hard, so they wrote to Fenty asking him to reconsider. When they got no answer, they wrote another round of letters and hopped the number 36 Metrobus to the Wilson Building (two buses, actually, with boys and girls separated) to deliver them personally.

They climbed the front steps of the Wilson Building chanting "Pope! Pope! Pope! and flashing signs such as "Don't Smash Hope, Keep Principal Pope." Security guards allowed English teacher Janelle Henry to take three students to Fenty's third-floor offices with the shopping bag full of letters.

Ashley Marshall, the new director of Fenty's correspondence unit, said she didn't know what happened to the first batch of letters, but promised a response to the latest group.

Pope, who founded the highly regarded visual arts and instrumental music program at Hardy, is scheduled to be replaced this summer by Dana Nerenberg, principal of nearby Hyde-Addison Elementary, who will run both schools. Henry said that the none of the Hardy faculty pushed the kids into trip -- although she is using the letter-writing effort as a class assignment.

"None of this has anything to do with the teachers," she said. The student reps agreed.

"We wanted to have our voices heard," said Asia, 12.

Shannon, also a 12-year-old seventh grader, said of Pope: "He knows everybody's name, and he keeps us under control."

While Fenty wasn't available, Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) invited the entire group out of the cold and into a first-floor room, where he held an hour-long impromptu version of one of his "youth hearings." Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) joined him on the dais, which was taped by Channel 13 for future broadcast. Gray's spokeswoman,Doxie McCoy, said Gray also planned to send a letter to Fenty registering his support for Pope.

Update at 6:20 p.m.:
DCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway sent over this statement:

"We appreciate our Hardy students' passion for their school and we understand why they will miss Principal Pope. Students should absolutely share their point-of-view and we look forward to continuing this dialogue.

Changes in top personnel have been made to take the most advantage of the leadership talent available to DCPS. Mr. Pope will remain principal of Hardy for the rest of this school year, and then will leave to lead a new citywide arts magnet school to open in 2011. "

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By Bill Turque  |  February 4, 2010; 4:35 PM ET
 | Tags: Adrian Fenty, Hardy Middle School, Michelle Rhee, Patrick Pope replaced, Vincent C.Gray  
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Pope didn't found an arts program. He dismissed the successful 25 year old (then) Fillmore Arts Program which his previous ES had long used, and connived to get Fillmore excluded from the rebuilt Hardy. The programs share a building after DCPS's near-receivership resulted in the sale of Fillmore and the 20 year lease of a Hearst -like building for a pittance of annual revenue. Fillmore Arts Center educates on and from the third floor of the Hardy MS - Fillmore Arts Center Building, and continues to serve children in numerous DCPS schools. Pope may have added something to arts-education. He's not a dummy. But most of what he learned was from Fillmore founding director Pat Mitchell. And I'm sure this gray, gray man whose previous gimmick was Kumon math -- the epitome of drill and kill -- has continued to learn from Fillmore, which continues to serve children from Hardy's designated feeder schools (and whose teachers could stand to see real salary growth, and be treated as the professional arts educators they are -- at the pay window.)

Posted by: incredulous | February 4, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

The issue, to me as a parent reading this, is that Rhee/Fenty may have their reasons to move Pope along, yet the disregard for the 7th grade students and not finding a way to listen to them is contemptuous. Kids are confused, and rather than take the time to meet with them and be honest (they always know if adults lie!) a brief meeting could have helped to heal the divisions. It is also outrageous that whatever the "truth" is about their plans for Pope they think they're fooling the public by insulting our intelligence -- as if Rhee really wants this guy sticking around in any capacity. Rhee throws the baby out with the bathwater over and over, rather than finding ways to bring long-experienced DCPS administrators with NEEDED skill sets into the fold, perhaps in another capacity, she lies to the families, the kids and teachers then replaces them with often completely inadequate replacements who could have used some mentoring. DISGUSTING.

Posted by: modern1 | February 4, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

The same situation is happening at Walker Jones Education Campus. The principal is also being replaced.

Posted by: DEDICATEDEDUCATOR | February 4, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

And I'm sure this gray, gray man whose previous gimmick was Kumon math

(and whose teachers could stand to see real salary growth,

and be treated as the professional arts educators they are --

at the pay window.)


Posted by: edlharris | February 5, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

If the principal is leaving from Walker Jones, then that's one more of her "New Army of Believers" gone in just two years. She replaced the principal in 08 and at the time test scores were improving. That's really good to know. It's beginning to show that her knowledge of leadership is so short. The real joke is of Oyster-Adams. They were making AYP with the principal who was there when Rhee arrived. They have not made AYP since. Rhee's children attend that school.

Posted by: candycane1 | February 5, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

So is Rhee going to pay Dana Nerenberg twice the salary for doing the work of 2 principals? Or does she do the job of 2 people but get paid for 1?

Posted by: aby1 | February 5, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I bet we won't see Gugenheim including this clip in any of his films.

Posted by: aby1 | February 5, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Well, take the Capitol Hill Cluster School. One principal, THREE schools. Just more headaches and less leadership.

ANd she's grooming one to take over there, too, but the "skill sets" needed include respect from children, which this one doesn't have. Wait and see!

Posted by: ame_hr | February 5, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

"Obfuscation, classism and Racism in C Minor"

Pope is quality

Rhee, arrogant race baiter

Is she Strom's daughter?

Posted by: onemorecardandits22 | February 5, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

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