Correction to This Article
The article inaccurately presented D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's views about the leadership of Hardy Middle School in Georgetown. She believes says that its leaders, including Principal Patrick Pope, are attempting to assuage community concerns about the school and that more can be done by clarifying the nature of the school's arts offerings and admissions process.

D.C. school uneasy about Rhee's plans for it

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009

For much of the past decade, Rose L. Hardy Middle School has been a small gem in the District's public education system, a place where large numbers of sixth- seventh- and eighth-graders have found academic success.

Nearly three-quarters of its students are proficient in reading, according to last spring's standardized test. Its acclaimed fine arts and instrumental music program, built by longtime Principal Patrick Pope, draws students from across the city and has helped develop artists such as bassist Ben Williams, winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk jazz competition.

Hardy, a school in the heart of Georgetown, also has an enrollment that is more than 70 percent African American. An emerging debate over its future illuminates one of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's greatest challenges: to increase the diversity of the school system by drawing in more white, middle-class families without compromising the interests of its predominantly poor and minority student population.

With most middle-class children leaving the system after the fourth or fifth grade, Rhee must sell D.C.'s middle schools as an attractive option.

Rhee triggered considerable anxiety and suspicion among Hardy parents and staff members last month when she promised a Georgetown audience that she would "turn" the school in an attempt to make it more attractive to neighborhood families.

According to the Northwest Current, a community newspaper, Rhee told the Citizens Association of Georgetown on Oct. 22 that she planned a major announcement about Hardy in December. Then she added:

"It's not going to turn overnight, but I think the plan we're moving forward on is one that is really going to boost [the school as an] option. I think people will be incredibly pleased."

Hardy parents and teachers said they knew nothing about the plan and didn't like the little Rhee had to say about it. In their view, she appears poised to reinvent a successful school to accommodate a small group of privileged parents.

"If you're a civil rights lawyer and you read that, you're asking, 'Turn from what to what? Turn from who to who?" said Keenan Keller, an African American, whose daughter travels from outside the Hardy boundary area to attend seventh grade there.

In an interview Thursday, Rhee would not disclose her plans for the school, but she said the "turn" she described had nothing to do with its racial composition. "What that implies is that what is good for one group of kids is not good enough for another," she said. "I think that's not only false but incredibly harmful."

What needs to turn, she said, is the attitude of the school's leadership, which she said has not always been welcoming to neighborhood families. The school has an application process, which includes a letter of recommendation and "evidence of experience" in art, music or theater in the form of a portfolio or program from a school performance. Students also must take a 90-minute "workshop" with the school's arts and general education teachers.

That has left the misimpression, Rhee said, that Hardy is specialty school not open to the surrounding community. "We need to do a lot of clarifying," she said. "Hardy has an arts component, but you don't have to think you have the next Whitney Houston on your hands to send your kids to this school."

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