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Is turmoil at Hardy driving families away?

There are early signs that the lingering feud over Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's decision to replace Hardy Middle School principal Patrick Pope may be driving away the very families she sought to attract with the leadership change: those in the "feeder" elementary schools in Northwest D.C.

Rhee announced late last year that Pope, creator of the arts and music program that draws a majority African-American student body to the newly-renovated Georgetown school, would be replaced in June by Dana Nerenberg, principal of nearby Hyde-Addison Elementary. Rhee said she made the change to more firmly establish Hardy's identity as a neighborhood school despite its application process, which she describes as a source of confusion for local families. The plan is for Pope to begin planning a middle school arts magnet. Nerenberg will run both Hardy and Hyde-Addison, underscoring the continuity between Hardy and its surrounding feeders.

Some African American parents at Hardy believe Rhee is trying to change the demographics of the school, a charge she denies. They've taken their demand for Pope's reinstatement to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. Hardy students and teachers have marched on the Wilson Building.

Parent leaders told Rhee at a meeting Tuesday morning that the turmoil is clearly having an impact. They said that according to school data, applications filed with the school for admission to the sixth grade -- the school's entry level -- have declined sharply: from 162 at this time last year to 30 as of Monday morning.

More striking is the number of applications they said have been received from the approximately 150 fifth grade families families at its official feeder schools, Hyde-Addison, Key, Stoddert and Eaton: zero. Last year about 35 percent of fifth graders from the feeders entered Hardy, most of the rest opting for Deal, Washington Latin charter school or other charters or parochial schools.

"Clearly the removal of Mr. Pope has hurt the program," said Keenan Keller, chairman of the panel of parents, staff and administrators known as an LSRT (Local School Restructuring Team). He called the data "breathtaking."

Interviews with some elementary school parents Tuesday echo Keller's assessment.

Sherry Woods, who has a fourth grader at Eaton and two children at Hardy, said the turbulence at the top has given parents pause. There is also concern about having a principal running two schools.
"I don't want a principal who's got her feet in two doors," said Woods. "One of those learning environments is going to be grossly impacted. Bottom line, it ill be the middle school."

"There are a lot of concerns about the transition Rhee is imposing," said Allan Assarson, who has a third grader at Key and a sixth grader at Hardy. He said Key parents are concerned about faculty following Pope out the door.

But out-of-boundary interest in Hardy remains robust. In the on-line lottery that closed Sunday, 175 families put in bids for sixth grade seats. The sixth grade application deadline is March 31, and Rhee says it's too early to tell what the final enrollment picture will look like. "We would have to wait until the application deadline to have data that is really meaningful," she said in an interview after the meeting.

Rhee is also locked in a dispute with the LSRT over the role of the lottery, and their differences took up the bulk of the 70-minute session at Hardy.

Pope has used an application process (a student letter, a teacher recommendation, and the most recent report card) along with school visits to fill his incoming sixth grade classes. Pope and Keller cite a 2003 decision by the old Board of Education designating Hardy a "special program" as the basis for application system, which they said exists only as a device to become more familiar with a student's needs, and not as a way to exclude.

Families within Hardy's attendance boundaries are guaranteed spots. Rarely, Pope has said, has an out-of-boundary family that completed the application process been denied admission. As a practical matter, it hasn't been an issue; Hardy has been under-enrolled for years.

But Rhee wants Hardy to draw out-of-boundary students from the lottery and then require them to complete the application as a condition of admission. Keller, an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee, cites a section of the D.C. Municipal Regulations that provides for a "back end" lottery only if there are more applicants than seats available.

Rhee doesn't agree, and says the lottery can better guarantee fairness and equal access. "I actually believe that what we want to create here is a process where any family, regardless of where they live, as long as they fulfill the requirements of the application, have an equal opportunity," she said.

The meeting ended, more or less, at an impasse.

"We've explained to you what the blowback is here, and you don't seem to get it," Keller said to Rhee, declaring her "not in compliance" with D.C. law.

"I disagree," she said.

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By Bill Turque  |  March 2, 2010; 7:34 PM ET
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Isn't it time for a column on this from the Washington Post Editors? They are supposed to be supporting Rhee's decision to move Pope out of Hardy and telling us how it will help the children.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 2, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

"Rhee doesn't agree, and says the lottery can better guarantee fairness and equal access."

Except for Fenty.

Posted by: edlharris | March 2, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

"We would have to wait until the application deadline to have data that is really meaningful," she said in an interview after the meeting.

In other words, she'll make an executive decision to reverse everything she's mandated when she has no other choice. sort of like how she handled not calling off school for the snowstorm until there was a parent insurrection and then denied parents had anything to do with the decision.

Posted by: efavorite | March 3, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

The key word here is in the article's headline: "turmoil." Rhee has done an excellent job at creating that throughout the system since she became chancellor. Aside from that, I haven't seen her do much of anything else except bad mouth DCPS to media outlets when she's out of town. When will the public wake up and see her for who she is? It's past time for her to go and replace her with someone who is really interested in the students and teachers in DC and can effect POSITIVE change.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | March 3, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Remember, Rhee thinks, “It's my way or the highway!” We are experiencing sad days in the DCPS because she's RUDE and INCOMPETENT!

Posted by: dcrez1 | March 3, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

If the application process hasn't resulted in anyone being denied application - then all the more reason to integrate the process with the out-of-bound lottery system. I think the centralized out-of-bound lottery system is an improvement, because it takes (ought to take?) confussion out of the system.

I can also see why in-bounds parents would have increased reluctance to enroll their children at Hardy this year. Would you really want to send your child into the situation of being "the white people who are trying to take over our school." Whether it's true or not, if I had other equally good (educationally) choices for my son, I would be very hesitant to put him in that situation. If the other options were bad and that's where the best education was to be had, that'd be different.

What I really don't understand is why if conversations were had about changing the middle school (even if it was just perceptions about the school) with the feeder elementary schools, why someone from DCPS (higher up) didn't also speek to the middle school parents. Nobody likes being the last to know. Maybe I'm naive, but it seems like having ongoing discussion on the matter with all parties involved, from the beginning, might have gone a long way to at least mitigating this situation.

Posted by: KH20003 | March 3, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

When Ms. Rhee met with the Hardy staff a few weeks ago (and several months after her decision), she was unable to articulate why the staff and school community were not included in the decision making process. Additionally, she was unable to support her claim that a new principal was assigned (rather than interviewed and recommended by staff and community members) due to a "time" constraint around the process.

I was in the meeting yesterday, and what floored me most was not her brusque, vague, patronizing responses- rather the way she abruptly left the meeting when the LSRT chair called her bluff. I could not believe how unprofessionally she responded (not verbally but physically in grabbing her coat) even in front of TV cameras and community members.

Posted by: dcpsteacher1 | March 3, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

dcpsteacher1 - Rhee's behavior sounds awful, but not surprising. She's used to being queen bee - to having a fawning staff, intimidated principals and teachers and an adoring national media (with a few exceptions).

She doesn't know how to deal with criticism and confrontation from parents or anyone who doesn't fear her or adore her, so she just removes herself from the situation. The parents are nothing to her or she wouldn't have treated them with the disrespect and disdain she's demonstrated so far on numerous issues. If parents feed into her motives, fine. If not, she's gone.

Posted by: efavorite | March 3, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Bill Turque,

The idea that Rhee's actions at Hardy are driving away in-boundary students is crazy. Just walk onto any playground in the boundary and ask parents what they think. You're relying too much on the parents that attend Hardy PTA and LSRT meetings, and you can probably understand why parents supportive of Rhee aren't attending those meetings.


Posted by: archerovi | March 3, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

It struck me, that the parents of graduating Hide-Addison ES students were included in the group not choosing to follow their Principal Nerenberg to Hardy MS.

According to the recently published Stakeholder Survey, Hide-Addison parents are extremely satisfied with the school and it's staff. This school is smaller compared to the other feeder schools, but to have no applicants at this late date is quite remarkable. One would think that if Principal Nerenberg was actively endorsing Hardy MS there would be applications from Hide-Addison ES. But there are none.

If the current level of hostility and publicity continues, I would expect that the next four weeks will see little, if no improvement in people's comfort with the Hardy MS option before the March 31st deadline. Unfortunately, these are the kind of unintended consequences to ill-conceived policy that have become a pattern of this administration.

Ironically, Rhee's actions not only undermine her intent to put more northwest families in public schools, but it also forces the Chancellor to extend an even larger "lottery waiver" to those families who will instead choose to go to Deal MS or other DCPS alternatives. These parents have demanded in-boundry type access to preserve the friendships their children developed in elementary school. As this Tuesday's meeting dealt extensively with this issue of the lottery, Ms. Rhee's interest in "fairness to any family, regardless of where they live...", is going to take the moral back seat to keeping children she determines to be more desirable in the DCPS.

I continue to hope for some positive resolution to the quagmire that has been created from a far less treacherous environment a year ago. I believe that the stakes in this election year will elevate this story to the greater Washington consciousness, and that political choices will be need to be made in response. After all, the beginning of the next school year will occur three weeks before the September 14th Primary Elections.

Posted by: AGAAIA | March 3, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Turque refers to data as well to support his claim that Rhee has no idea what she's doing.
Last year, many more students from the feeder area had applied by now. This year, none have.
Also, I'm a resident of the feeder area and I think it's appalling to replace an 11 year veteran who is one of the few effective principals in the district with someone who has close to no experience and will be in charge of 2 schools.
It's absurd. I was a fan of Rhee until this decision. She needs to go.

Posted by: saucy4 | March 3, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

When did ignorance, incompetence and arrogance become desirable leadership qualities?

Posted by: mcstowy | March 3, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I find it very, very hard to believe that in-boundary parents are not completing Hardy applications because of Rhee's decision. I would imagine in-boundary parents now realize that they don't need to complete an application to send their children to Hardy.


Posted by: archerovi | March 3, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

“It's absurd. I was a fan of Rhee until this decision. She needs to go.”

More and more people are coming to this conclusion, absurd decision by absurd decision. Hopefully there is now a critical mass.

It’s easy to be supportive of the Chancellor if you just hear her speak in broad terms, but once people become aware of her absurd decisions, or are directly affected by them, support dissipates rapidly.

Posted by: efavorite | March 3, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse


Respectfully, I would like to fill you in on some of the details.

1) The in-boundry application process still applies to this date, and the decision to maintain this process has been at the complete and sole discretion of the Chancellor's Office. Principal Pope has no say as to the process at this point, although he supports it.

2) Last year, when it became apparent that many Key ES parents who wanted to send their children to Deal MS (out-of-boundry) would be competing for space through the lottery system, the Chancellor provided a waiver of the normal lottery process for these families so their children could move to Deal MS as if it was an in-boundry school, thus keeping all those Key children together. This year, it is very likely that the number of children coming from Key ES to Deal MS will be even greater. Rhee will have to again, provide a waiver for these families, as most will not commit to DCPS if some children are excluded by the lottery system. This accommodation has also resulted in making it easy for parents to reject Hardy in favor of Deal.

3) I probably attend many of the same playgrounds as you do, and there is certainly a lot of opinions to be shared. As a parent of both Key and Hardy children, I have listened to many parents who attend these and other schools in Wards 2 and 3. There is no question that the Chancellor's decision has made an already bad situation far worse. Those Key parents that were wary of Principal Pope are even less likely to send their kids to Hardy, as the this turmoil has not even seen it's logical crescendo. And Rhee can be held directly responsible, as she has excluded the Hardy School community from the process in favor of her favored potential Hardy School community of the future.

Whether or not we agree on the policy the Chancellor has advanced, the path she has chosen to take has created an enormous level of hostility that could have been avoided. Most of her supporters that I have spoken to have described it as "S**t Storm", and are extremely disappointed in her performance. The Chancellor has a problem with the very predictable, yet unintended consequences of her actions. It is unfair to blame those who have found fault with her in this regard (which includes many of her supporters), as the person most responsible for limiting the open discussion of ideas is the Chancellor herself.

Posted by: AGAAIA | March 3, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Thank-you, archerovi @ 1:40PM.
And shame on you, Turque, but a little less than I'd direct on the rest who still have not acknowledged the issue of selective admissions practice of the Hardy Sorority of Pontiff Patrick. When at least one within-boundary parent reported to another newspaper that he/she had been repeatedly turned away by the Hardy front office who demanded an unnecessary application of her, nobody took notice, cared, or investigated.
The Hardy Sorority has for years discriminated against Latino and other children in favor of a school which they regard as a protected refugee camp and escape from badly managed neighborhood middle schools elsewhere in the city. Ironically, one of the parents cited in this story from Key ES has elsewhere defended the practice. Why? Keeps the rabble out? Hardy MS AP Garnett has been playing this game of offering and protecting a reservation for at least twenty years. What has this always been about? No Pope --> No Garnett (and other satraps).

If enrollment at Hardy MS by out-of-bound students were threatened by pending changes at the top, there wouldn't be so many applications from them, would there?

And, how to explain the web-page, which still claims that Hardy MS is NOT part of the DCPS out-of-boundary enrollment lottery, and that a Hardy MS application form and workshop attendance is necessary? Shameful that people who wouldn't defend a poll tax or literacy requirements on voters have been silent on Hardy's screening of applicants under Pope. They don't discriminate. But, they reserve the perogative to do so. Rich.

Finally: Bill Turque: WaPo can't afford $100 for a first class postage mailing to ALL of the 5th grade parents at the feeder schools to find out where they will enroll their kids next year?

Posted by: incredulous | March 3, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Thank you AGAAIA, for your explanation. Something to keep in mind - the chancellor creates hostility wherever she goes - it's part of her signature bold approach. Plus I doubt that she knows how to do anything else.

As for her supporters whom you mention, I sincerely hope that because of this at hardy, they are former supporters. As someone who thinks Rhee must leave in order for the school system to have a chance to improve, I hope supporters don’t give her a pass on this, assuming it’s one unfortunate mistake. This is part of a huge pattern that becomes more obvious as time goes on.

Posted by: efavorite | March 3, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the reason there are no Hardy applications to date from the feeder schools is because Rhee told some of those families at confidential home meetings that she will ensure their entry regardless--similar to circumventing the lottery process for Key kids who were given "in-boundary" admission to Deal which one poster referred to?

> incredulous | March 3, 2010 3:00 PM -- You say Hardy's leadership has a "selective admissions practice," yet I have heard and read that Hardy has been under-enrolled for several years. Which is it? Selective or not? If the former, I want to hear from parents, including Latino families to whom you refer, whose kids applied to Hardy previously and were not admitted.

Also, why don't any of the Key parents who had home meetings with Rhee about Hardy last summer 'fess up and post a comment? What was said there that couldn't be stated in a public forum (or dare you say so)?

Posted by: 1950snoopy | March 3, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I'm confused about the facts here.

First, on Hardy's website, the PDF for the admission to 6th grade says the deadline for the application to the Intensive Arts Program is Friday, March 13--not the 31st. Their deadline for application for 7th and 8th grades is Friday, April 03.

Second, the DCPS out-of-boundary lottery for Hardy, which closed Feb. 28, indicated that Hardy had 49 open 6th grade slots filled. Ninety-three other students were wait-listed for a total of 142. Hardy's 6th grade enrollment as of Oct. 2009 was 169. It was reported above that zero applications had been received from Hardy's four feeder schools. If class size remains constant, does this mean that as of the end of February there were 120 approved applicants to the sixth grade (rolling admission for Hardy's 6th grade program started in early February)? Otherwise, did somebody at DCPS just guesstimate that there would be 49 open slots based on last year's 6th grade totals (169 total students less 155*0.35=55 in-boundary students)? Since Hardy's applications forms indicate that they do not recognize the lottery process, what's up with the 49 families who were selected in the lottery process? Are they indeed back-ended, or in other words are they admitted pending the March 13 (or 31st) deadline and whatever open slots may remain at that time--and then the additional step of an accepted application?

By the way, I'm not convinced that there's anything wrong with waiving students from Hardy's feeder schools into Deal. If your guaranteed middle school slot was at a school--like Hardy--that had an intensive focus which you thought might detract from the rigor and roundness of your child's education, wouldn't you feel slighted if you had to enter the lottery at the next closest middle school? And Deal is the next closest middle school for three of the feeder schools.

By another way, in 2004 Keenan Keller was an unsuccessful candidate for Distict 1 (Wards 1&2) school board--back when being on the school board meant something.

Posted by: gardyloo | March 4, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Eaton Elementary feeds into Deal. Deal is it's official junior high school. I know this because I have friends whose 5th and 6th graders went straight into Deal. Eaton is like 12 blocks from Deal. What, did Murch send any kids to Hardy? I believe that describing Hardy as Eaton's "official" feeder school is incorrect- I believe 100% of the 5th grade students who stayed public went to Deal without lottery. I know they said many of their friends were doing St Albans, Sidwell and other schools within walking distance of Eaton.

I think Keenan Keller would have been great on the school board, I spoke to him many times during his campaign and voted for him. But since his loss much of what I heard him say was knee-jerk anti-establishment that didn't seem to match his previous views.

Posted by: bbcrock | March 4, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Try to learn more about selective recruitment. If admission to Hardy MS was automatic, there would not have been an admissions committee. You probably don't think of giving charter schools more credit than they deserve when they have kids and parents jump through hoops as an entrance requirement.

Posted by: incredulous | March 4, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse


Eaton ES status has changed back and forth in the last few years, but it's current status is that in-boundry to both Deal and Hardy. There are also Eaton children at Hardy. That was verified to me by DCPS today.

Mr. Keller is a passionate advocate, who has done much good Hardy since I have known him, and he is committed to the success of our public schools. His consistent anti-establishment reaction to Chancellor Rhee's administration is not hard to sympathize with.

Posted by: AGAAIA | March 4, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't sympathize with it at all- certainly no more than I sympathize with Dick Cheney or Bunning or the others in the "party of no" who are thwarting Obama- because that knee-jerk reaction of "oh no, we need more studies, no one should ever ACT in DCPS, heaven forbid!" encourages more anti-student behavior on the part of teachers and principals which is already rampant. I find fault with pretty much this entire article and its tone.

Posted by: bbcrock | March 5, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

Remarks here expose further confusion. Is Eaton the only ES school in DCPS whose students have been privileged with guaranteed slots at two public middle schools? Do out-of-bound students completing ANY feeder schools enjoy guarantees of slots in the receiving schools for in-bounds classmates? With budgets tight and resources scarces, will unclaimed slots be fairly assigned to students in wait-list order? DCPS tells those students/ parents that they are now on their own to follow up with schools they've been wait-listed for.

More generally, Bill Turque: Is this system of putative choice working, or, absent a large number of desired middle and high schools, does it leave large numbers of students and parents in years of uncertainty about where they will matriculate to? That DCPS conducts a lottery, and then throws administration of large numbers of wait-listed students to the vaguaries of five months of follow-up and negotiation with local school officials further suggest that the system remains broken and subject to corruption.

1950snoopy: You should study the Hardy application process and requirements. Selective recruitment, transcript and character-reference requirements are not inconsistent with under-enrollment. What happens to voter turnout when word gets around that credentials will be scrutinized and challenged at the polling place? One wonders why new and renewed DCPS facilities have been permitted to go under-utilized. Maybe for no reason other than managerial incompetence.

Posted by: incredulous | March 5, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse


Your message is completely incoherent. You wrote it at 12:44am, and one can only assume it's colored by your overconsumption of alcohol and/or other mind-altering substances. There's simply no other way to reconcile your rant against Cheney, Bunning, Republicans, and Independents who are opposed to Obama's Healthcare proposals with an article and thread about Hardy Middle School.

Stop listening to Amy Winehouse and go to Rehab!

Posted by: pfish | March 6, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

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