Carlos Hood, an eighth grade student at Hardy Middle School, has a message for Mayor Vincent Gray: “Do you remember when you extended your hand towards our school? But… now a year later, that extended hand turned into a closed fist. And our school, it looks like it has been overseen and overlooked since the election.”
Joining Carlos in testifying about Hardy at a youth hearing at the D.C. Council last Saturday were classmates Aziza-Imani Stewart, and twin sisters Desne and Deme Wharton. The four eighth graders are among the Hardy students, parents and teachers who continue to call for the return of Patrick Pope, the popular former principal who was removed last year by then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
The Washington Post noted: “Pope’s removal was an attempt by Rhee to draw more [white] neighborhood elementary school families into Hardy, which is located in Georgetown but draws a citywide student body that is predominantly African American… The move, which Hardy parents say was imposed by Rhee without prior discussion triggered an angry reaction that grew into a mayoral campaign issue last year. Some parents saw it as a blatant attempt to ease black children out of the newly renovated school, a perception triggered in part by Rhee’s statement to a Georgetown civic group that she wanted to ‘turn’ the school.”
Last year, Pope was replaced by Dana Nerenberg. Nerenberg attempted to simultaneously serve as principal of both Hardy Middle School and Hyde-Addison Elementary School. Last month, Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson removed Nerenberg from Hardy. Then, on Feb. 7, Henderson named Daniel Shea as the interim principal of Hardy. Shea is presently completing his first week on the job.
After watching her twin daughters testify at the D.C. Council on Saturday, Daphne Dunston-Wharton discussed the difficulties Hardy has faced since Pope’s removal: “Now the things [my daughters] come home telling me are unacceptable. People skipping class. Profanity in the bathrooms and fights and bullying. None of that was going on when Mr. Pope was there. Mr. Pope stood at the bus stop and saw his kids get off Metro buses coming into Hardy. He addressed them, everybody, name by name.”
Ms. Dunston-Wharton continued, “Right now, my girls have four months left in the eighth grade and I’m afraid that it’s over for them. Now I’m fighting for the kids coming behind. There’s so much political stuff that’s involved, but the way we look at it, they have taken a school away. They’ve not allowed as many kids from out of boundary to come in any longer. They’ve taken away the whole application process… They want their school back. They want us out. We come from Ward 8. Kids come from every ward and every quadrant in D.C. to go to Hardy.”
Following her sister Desne’s testimony (“the new administration has messed up most of everything”), Deme read her grandmother’s letter to Council Chairman Kwame Brown: “My point, and the purpose of this mail, is to ask you, as the officials who have the wisdom and authority to do so, to just do the right thing. Put the welfare of our children first. Rhetoric is cheapened when there is no action to move it forward. Be the example and teach our children firsthand what can happen when elected and appointed officials have their best interests as their platform. Let them see democracy work in a favorable light. Finally, let them know that while mistakes will be made, they can just as easily be owned up to and corrected… [Hardy had] stellar and comprehensive programs under the impeccable leadership of Mr. Pope.”
After Saturday’s hearing, Desne expressed her frustration over testifying for two years, to little effect: “They said they’re going to do something about Mr. Pope, but nothing has really happened. We’re kind of repeating ourselves over and over, coming to these meetings, and it’s like no outcome of it. There’s no change… I was expecting [more from Mayor Gray] because he kind of promoted Pope during his election… He probably used that to help his campaign. He said he was going to do something, but I don’t see anything yet.”
Discussing how to get Hardy “put back together again,” while inexplicably ruling out bringing back the principal who helped make the school a success, is not an easy task. The rhetorical fancy footwork coming from officialdom, as relayed by Chairman Brown at Saturday’s hearing, goes like this: “It’s important that we allow whoever the new principal is [time] to… get Hardy back on track.” And like this, “Whoever the principal is, [they should be given] the opportunity to bring the things that made Hardy successful back… I’m going to give them every opportunity to do so.”
Question: This is supposed to be about the Hardy students, right? This is not about the mayor (who supported Pope’s continuing as Hardy principal before the election) or the chairman (who did likewise) or the Interim Chancellor (who, as Rhee’s No. 2, is complicit in Pope’s removal and Hardy’s fall) or the new interim principal (no matter how great a guy he may be). This is about the students. How many times do Hardy students have to state unequivocally what they want, what they need, before the adults in power listen to them?
In response to Chairman Brown’s attempt to coerce them into adopting his position, Deme responded, “I believe most of the children think that it shouldn’t be [an] interim principal, it should be Mr. Pope back because that’s who we need.”