D.C. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee infuriated parents and faculty at a Georgetown middle school Friday evening by announcing that she plans to remove its popular long-time principal, Patrick Pope.
Rhee said that Pope would finish the academic year at Hardy Middle School, home of a highly regarded arts and instrumental music program, and then spend the next year planning the creation of a new magnet middle school for performing arts. Pope will be replaced this summer by Dana L. Nerenberg, principal of nearby Hyde-Addison Elementary, who will run both schools as a unified pre-kindergarten through eighth grade program.
Rhee promised that the basics of the arts and music curriculum, which draws a mostly African-American student body from all wards of the city, would not change. But at a tense and often angry two-hour meeting in the Hardy cafeteria, Rhee was pelted by accusations that the move was designed to squeeze minority students out of Hardy to make it more palatable for white families of neighborhood "feeder" elementary schools.
Rhee said that parents at nearby elementary schools such as Key and Mann have long been confused by Hardy's application process, which she said left the mistaken impression that it was not a neighborhood school open to all within its attendance area.
Members of the Hardy community said that was insulting and absurd, and that elementary parents have heard years of presentations from Pope and his teachers about how Hardy operated. They also took issue with meetings Rhee has held with feeder school parents over the last year.
Jeffrey Watson, who sent two sons to Hardy, said neighborhood parents stayed away because they were not comfortable with the racial composition of the school.
"Don't play games with people in here. We're not stupid," Watson said. "Rather than having private meetings with them, tell them to walk on over." Watson added they their children "won't be bothered by anyone."
Rhee said she found the suggestion that race factored into her dealings with neighborhood parents to be "extraordinarily disconcerting."
"In none of the conversations that I have had about Hardy, with parents either at school currently or at the feeder schools, has anyone said they were said they were concerned with the racial makeup of the school," Rhee said.
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