D.C.'s Rhee told that replacing Hardy principal may backfire

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010

There are signs that the lingering dispute 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 change: those in the "feeder" elementary schools in Northwest Washington.

Parent leaders told Rhee at a meeting Tuesday that the Georgetown school, which requires that students apply for admission, has received no completed forms from any of the approximately 150 fifth-grade families at Hyde-Addison, Key, Stoddert or Eaton elementary schools.

Last year, about 35 percent of fifth-graders from the feeder schools entered sixth grade at Hardy. Many of the rest secured spots at Deal Middle School, Washington Latin Public Charter School or parochial or other private schools.

Applications from students at other city elementary schools are also down sharply, from 162 at this time last year to 30 as of Monday morning, parents reported, although many more students are seeking admission through a school system lottery.

"Clearly the removal of Mr. Pope has hurt the program," said Keenan Keller, chairman of the panel of parents, teachers and administrators known as the LSRT (Local School Restructuring Team) for Hardy.

An enrollment decline would have funding consequences for the school, which has about 160 sixth-graders. Pope, who will leave his post in June, confirmed the numbers and said he was "very concerned." But with a March 31 application deadline, Rhee said it is still too early to draw conclusions.

"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 announced late last year that Pope, founder of the arts and music program that draws a majority-African American student body from across the city to the newly renovated school, would be replaced in June by Hyde-Addison Principal Dana Nerenberg.

Rhee said she wanted to strengthen Hardy's identity as a neighborhood school despite the application process, which she describes as confusing for local families. Rhee has assigned 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 feeder schools.

Some African American parents at Hardy said Rhee is trying to alter the demographics of the school, an assertion she denies.

Parents at some of the feeder schools said that instead of making Hardy more inviting, the turmoil has given them pause. Sherry Woods, who has a fourth-grader at Eaton and two children at Hardy, said there is concern about having a principal running two schools.

"I don't want a principal who's got her feet in two doors," Woods said. "One of those learning environments is going to be grossly impacted. Bottom line, it will be the middle school."

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