Mary Stefanus, principal of the District’s Hardy Middle School, announced this week that she is retiring to spend more time with her family.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to work with the great Hardy staff and community,” Stefanus wrote in an e-mail. “But nothing has been better than getting to know, helping to support and working with the incredible students.”

Stefanus is a veteran educator who had retired from her previous position, as principal of a school in suburban St. Louis, before she was drawn back to work in 2011 by the opportunity to lead Hardy.

She headed the Georgetown school for the last two years, bringing stability after a much-publicized period of turmoil that began in late 2009 when then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee decided to remove popular Principal Patrick Pope.

Pope had founded an arts and music program at Hardy that drew a majority-African-American student population from across the city. His reassignment sparked fierce protest from Hardy students and parents, who accused Rhee of trying to push out minority students to make room for families from the school’s majority-white neighborhood.

The upheaval led to further leadership churn — Pope’s replacement left Hardy after several months — and became an issue in the 2010 mayoral election, giving then-candidate Vincent Gray ammunition to criticize incumbent Adrian Fenty’s handling of city schools.

Some frustration has lingered at Hardy; veteran teacher Gloria Brown, a supporter of Pope’s, said she decided in May to retire because she was dissatisfied with changes since his departure. But David Fredrickson, Hardy’s PTO president, said Stefanus helped the school move past its tumult.

“Her enthusiasm, her obvious respect for the kids and the faculty set the tone for the school,” said Fredrickson, who said he chose Hardy for his daughter last year after hearing good things about the principal, known as “Dr. Mary.”

Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she is still deciding whether to appoint an interim principal or pull together a community panel to help choose a permanent replacement.

“We appreciate Dr. Mary’s contributions to Hardy Middle School. We will miss her and wish her well in her decision to retire,” Henderson said in a statement. “We look forward to finding someone fully capable to support the hard working staff and students at Hardy.”