If Mayor Vincent Gray wants to get back on track after a bad week, he can start by fulfilling the hopes of many of his early supporters by reinstating Patrick Pope as principal of Georgetown’s Rose L. Hardy Middle School.
Chancellor Michelle Rhee pulled Pope out of Hardy at the end of the last school year and gave him the task of crafting a plan for an arts magnet school based on the Hardy model. Pope had turned Hardy into an award-winning school, and Rhee had hopes of replicating his success elsewhere, while making Hardy more suited to the needs of its local community. But it all went wrong.
In January, parent leader Candy Miles-Crocker complained in a letter to Gray and interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson that Hardy “has gone down to a level unfortunately, that looks like what many describe as a typical D.C. public school.” With Pope gone, reports of violence were up, and there were allegations of corporal punishment.
Pope’s replacement, Dana Nerenberg, was soon followed by another replacement, Daniel Shea. But parents like Miles-Crocker were not satisfied. Parents say they were asked to give Henderson notes on the kind of principal they would like to see -- only to be informed, when they did so, that she had already selected Shea.
Shea had 15 years of experience in Montgomery County, and was a reasonable choice. But Pope’s experience is similar, and the magnet school project he had been planning is on hold due to budget constraints, so there’s no longer any reason for him to be off the job.
During his campaign, Gray said he did not understand why Pope was removed, and supported his reinstatement. But Henderson says she does not plan to put Pope back where he belongs. Instead, D.C. Public Schools has added a fifth administrative official to Hardy to help control the storm. Since Pope was removed, the school has recorded 41 student suspensions -- compared to just one for the entirety of last year.
In a letter to parents at the time of Nerenberg’s removal, Henderson wrote, “We share responsibility in making mistakes which have contributed to the challenges that Hardy now faces. We also commit to correcting these mistakes.”
That’s the right attitude -- but Henderson chose the wrong remedy. Rhee tried to “fix” a school that wasn’t broken -- and now that it is, the man who made it great should be given the chance to set things right.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC