Another take from Hardy Middle School parents
Sometimes it's easy to assume that the loudest voices are the most important. For months now, a group of parents at Hardy Middle School, unhappy about then-Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's reassignment of Principal Patrick Pope, have expressed deep concern about what they describe as deteriorating conditions at the Georgetown school. They say scheduling, discipline and the quality of the school's signature music and art programs have suffered in the transition to new Principal Dana Nerenberg.
They are well-organized and persistent. Last year they helped make Hardy and Pope an issue in the mayoral race and earlier this month they met with Mayor Vincent C. Gray's staff to press for Nerenberg's removal.
I'm not saying their arguments lack merit. Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson has responded with a series of measures announced last week to bring more stability to the school. But I've been remiss in bringing other voices into the coverage of Hardy. There is another segment of the parent community that believes that while there are significant issues to address, Hardy is not imploding. They say it is time to move on from the dispute over Rhee's reassignment of Pope-- however ill-advised or clumsily handled it might have been.
And for the record, DCPS had no role in connecting me with these parents.
Susan Coates' three children (in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades) travel from Anacostia each day to attend Hardy. "We wanted our children to have a good public education, and if we thought they weren't getting it, they wouldn't be there," Coates said. As to reports of fighting and discipline issues, she said: "I talk to my kids a lot and they tell me what goes on. There have been an instance or two, but they don't come home telling me there's a fight every day and students are being mean to teachers." Coates added that Nerenberg, also principal at Hyde-Addison Elementary, where her children went before Hardy, has been responsible and attentive despite her dual assignments.
"Our experience has been extremely positive," said Peter Eisler, who has a son in sixth grade. He enjoys going to school every morning. There are legitimate disagreements on the direction of the school. Everyone would agree that we are in the middle of a difficult transition, one made more difficult than it had to be by DCPS." But a lot of the issues are resolvable, he said, including the schedule, which was changed this year from a "block" format of one-hour-plus classes to a more traditional regime of 43-to 46-minute sessions. Many parents say this has diluted the effectiveness of the arts and music instruction.
"This is something everyone seems willing to revisit," Eisler said.
Some parents said they were disturbed by the tone of the the PTA meeting earlier this month, calling it disrespectful to Nerenberg.
"I was very disappointed that it seemed more about damaging the principal's image and record than about pulling the parent community together," said Dana Gillespie, whose seventh grade son transferred to Hardy this year from another DCPS middle school. In a letter to Henderson that she shared with me, Gillespie said:
"Clearly, there are many returning parents who are having difficulty accepting the changes that have been made at Hardy, both in leadership and procedurally. It was also very clear at the meeting that there are many new parents whose experiences at Hardy are not tainted by such anger and frustration, and who feel that their children are receiving a quality education at the school." She said it was unclear to her why the returning parents have been so outspoken in their criticism of the school, "other than to prove a point that the school cannot and will not operate successfully without the previous leadership."
New Hardy parents are not all uniformly pleased with the school. Greg and Marisa Mize are among the 15 sixth grade families who came to Hardy from Key Elementary this year. Rhee's discussions in 2009 with some Key families were a factor in her decision to replace Pope with a principal considered more friendly to neighborhood families.
Their experience has been mixed. Greg Mize said that at least five Key families have pulled their children out of Hardy this year because of concerns about disorganization, taunting and bullying. But he said said they love the diversity of the school, which draws most of its enrollment from across the city. Their daughter has forged friendships that would not have been possible at other schools.
"She's visiting families in other parts of the city she wasn't going to before," he said. "This is very attractive to her and therefore to us. It's a true city environment."
Mize said he intended to keep his daughter at Hardy and that he and other parents will work to turn the page.
"If there are problems, lets figure out solutions," he said. "Problem definition is not enough."
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