Reversing Rhee’s Direction on Hardy Middle School

Flickr: Steve Hutchinson

Now reading: “Hardy Middle School principal is reassigned” by Bill Turque at the Washington Post. It struck me as I was reading it that while this is merely a “news” article that most of us will skim through as we go about our day, for the mostly African-American kids who trudged through “more than a year of turmoil at one of the city’s few academically successful public middle schools”, this could be awful– with far-reaching consequences.

I went to Catholic school for most of my life, and once, in 7th grade, I asked a question in Math class that annoyed my teacher so much, she literally threw the book at me–as in, she hurled the textbook she had been consulting at my head. She had horrible aim, so I was fine, but I will never forget how embarrassing that moment was, and how everyone in my class reacted. I have always thought that the reason why I hate and am awful at math (after excelling at it, as a child) was because of the shame and memory of that outlandish and anomalous experience. This affects me to this day, even as I’m writing for you on DCentric– I tense up when I come across statistic-filled reports from think tanks or articles dense with numbers. Nearly 24 years after an awful middle school experience, what happened to me as a pre-teen makes me, in a very real way, less capable as an adult. Who knows how Hardy Middle School students have been impacted, and how a year of “turmoil” will affect their futures?

Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced Wednesday that she has reassigned the new principal of Hardy Middle School, acknowledging that poor decisions by the District had contributed to more than a year of turmoil at one of the city’s few academically successful public middle schools.

In a take-home letter distributed to students at dismissal, Henderson said Dana Nerenberg will return full time to Hyde-Addison Elementary, where she also serves as principal. The move rolls back one of Michelle A. Rhee’s most bitterly disputed decisions as chancellor, to replace veteran Hardy principal Patrick Pope in December 2009

The transition to new leadership has left the Hardy community badly fractured. Some returning parents said the school environment had deteriorated, with increases in fights, tardiness and disrespectful behavior toward staff…

Pope’s removal was an attempt by Rhee to draw more neighborhood elementary school families into Hardy, which is located in Georgetown but draws a citywide student body that is predominantly African American. Pope was described by Rhee and other senior school system officials as indifferent to the idea of promoting Hardy as a neighborhood option, a claim Pope has disputed.

The move, which Hardy parents say was imposed by Rhee without prior discussion triggered an angry reaction that grew into a mayoral campaign issue last year. Some parents saw it as a blatant attempt to ease black children out of the newly renovated school, a perception triggered in part by Rhee’s statement to a Georgetown civic group that she wanted to “turn” the school.

Rhee said later that she had been misunderstood.