Cheh appoints self to school board by giving up on Hardy
DC Public School leaders were caught by surprise this week when DC Council member Mary Cheh tried to intervene in the school planning process by demanding a new middle school be built in Ward 3.
The proposal for a new Ward 3 middle school represents an about face on the part of Ward 3 parents and Cheh. For the past 2 years, they called for changes at Ward 2's Hardy Middle School, to make it more welcoming to students from the three Ward 3 elementary schools that feed into Hardy.
Cheh and Ward 3 parents basically got exactly what they wanted: a new principal that will reach out to in-boundary feeder schools, and progress toward creating a new arts magnet school to fill the role Hardy plays for many out-of-boundary students.
But instead of waiting, Cheh is suddenly proposing to pull Ward 3 children out of Hardy. When Cheh and her council colleagues voted to disband the school board 4 years ago, one of the reasons was to reduce exactly this kind of political and parochial meddling. Cheh should let the chancellor do her job and let DCPS finish what it started.
Hardy Middle School is on the northern edge of Georgetown in Ward 2, but is fed primarily by Ward 3 elementary schools. The school has gone through significant turmoil in the past 18 months, triggered in part by opposition to Hardy's principal by Cheh and Ward 3 parents.
Hardy parents learned in December 2009 that long time principal Patrick Pope would be transferred. DCPS officials worried that he was manipulating admissions to favor wealthy out-of-boundary students, to the detriment of in-boundary and poor out-of-boundary students. While Cheh and Ward 3 parents applauded the transfer, many Hardy students and parents protested, and the subsequent temporary principal was removed by Chancellor Henderson after only a semester.
The community ultimately came together in May of this year to select a new principal, Dr. Mary Stefanus, who has received broad support by both those who had supported opposed Pope's transfer. This is largely thanks to Chancellor Henderson's commitment to a transparent, inclusive process for selecting the new principal.
Meanwhile, DCPS also started a process to create a new, citywide, arts-focused magnet school. That's what Hardy had effectively become under Pope, but residents wanted a neighborhood school instead. It will take some time to create this, but Cheh and Ward 3 parents seem to have lost patience and are suddenly abandoning the course of action they themselves pushed for.
After getting what they wanted, at the expense of significant discord in the Hardy community, one wonders what exactly Cheh and Ward 3 parents want out of Hardy. Impatience appears to be driving them to disrespect the authority of the chancellor, and use the council as a school board.
Some Ward 3 parents point to low test scores at Hardy as evidence to support a new school. But that argument is circular. The test score differences between Hardy and other nearby schools result from demographic differences more than anything else, and will thus improve as the new principal recruits in-boundary students.
This is clear by looking at test scores by race at Hardy, which are equivalent to scores at middle schools that are often chosen by Ward 3 parents. In other words, if Ward 3 parents would send their children to Hardy as much as they do to other middle schools, then Hardy's test scores would be comparable to those other schools.
Cheh and Ward 3 parents also complain of overcrowding at DCPS's Deal Middle School, where in-boundary students account for 59% of enrollment. But there's no middle school capacity problem in Ward 3. Many Ward 3 parents just don't want to send their kids to Hardy, even after a 2-year transition that they initiated.
Other wards have a greater need for middle schools, but Cheh is pushing the desires of some in her own ward at the expense of a city-wide planning process. Currently, Ward 5 does not have a DCPS middle school. Ward 4 has MacFarland Middle School, built in 1923 and in desperate need of renovation.
Ward 3 already has the newly-renovated and very popular Deal. The also recently-renovated Hardy, located in Ward 2 but serving Ward 3 families, may not meet Ward 3 parents' standards, but still ranks near the top of DCPS middle schools. In terms of simple need, almost every ward is far ahead of Ward 3.
Topher Mathews nails Cheh's proposal on the head:
All of this is really making the issue way more complicated than it needs to be. There is already a process in place to create a true arts focused magnet school. It still has a way to go until it is ready, but it's certainly further along in planning than a new Ward 3 middle school is. And once it does open, the main reason for not using Hardy to ease Ward 3 middle school capacity problems disappears.Cheh is now the latest council member to have let impatience cause her to forget her vote to do away with the school board. Just as Ward 3 parents appealed to the authority of the Chancellor when council member Jack Evans proposed legislation reinstating Patrick Pope, they should respect the Chancellor's authority now to lead a city-wide planning process.
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