Posts about Hardy School
District parents are without clear plans for middle school expansions after DCPS officials canceled the planning process for a new arts magnet middle school. DCPS officials confirmed the suspension with Greater Greater Washington last week and said the need for a city-wide comprehensive middle school plan required "rethinking all our options."
DCPS officials also pointed to city-wide needs more than a year ago when they removed Patrick Pope as principal of Hardy Middle School and tapped him to design and lead the new arts magnet middle school, despite objections by parents that this move would result in fewer middle school options.
DCPS spokesperson Fred Lewis did not respond to multiple requests last week for information on a city-wide planning process for middle schools. The only existing middle school plan for the District is the Ward 5 Great Schools plan, which is defined by a political boundary and is not city-wide.
Former Chancellor Michelle Rhee reassigned Pope from principal of the successful Hardy Middle School in May 2010 despite the objections of parents, teachers and students. Rhee tasked Pope with creating the arts-focused magnet middle school that was to open in Fall 2011.
Pope is now principal of Savoy Elementary in southeast DC.
A blue ribbon advisory panel was created to guide the planning of the new school. Design and funding concerns delayed the new school's opening from 2011 to 2012, according to an October 2010 email from DCPS, but no more updates had been provided to parents.
When asked last week about the status of the new arts magnet middle school, DCPS Spokesperson Lewis had this to say:
We stopped the planning process for a proposed arts magnet middle school last school year with the appointment of Patrick Pope as principal of Savoy Elementary. This school year, faced with major questions to resolve around school closures and a city-wide demand for a comprehensive middle school plan, we are rethinking all of our options.Lewis did not address follow-up questions about the status of any city-wide comprehensive middle school plan.
While District parents often feel comfortable sending their children to their neighborhood elementary school, they usually find their local middle school to be unacceptable. As a result, there is heavy competition amongst out-of-boundary families for lottery slots to two successful middle schools, Deal and Hardy.
Deal Middle School, in Tenleytown, has 83-89% reading and math proficiency scores, and is in high demand with 61% of its spots filled by in-boundary students. Hardy Middle School, just north of Georgetown, is an arts-focused middle school with 66-75% proficiency scores and only 13% in-boundary enrollment.
Most other public middle schools have proficiency scores below 50% and aging buildings. Deal and Hardy were each modernized in the past 5 years.
The lack of middle school options forces many parents to move to suburbs in Fairfax, Montgomery, Arlington and Prince George's Counties. Others who don't move often take their chances with the out-of-boundary lotteries for Deal and Hardy, or apply to charter middle schools such as Washington Latin.
When the district reassigned Pope from Hardy, out-of-boundary parents worried this move would reduce middle school options. Some think his removal was meant to bring in a principal who would better recruit in-boundary students into Hardy, thus further reducing middle school options for families out of the Hardy boundary of Palisades and Georgetown.
Rhee promised these parents that their options would in fact increase with the creation of a new arts magnet middle school led by Pope. The cancellation of this school, as a result, is particularly hard for parents to accept.
DCPS cites the need for a city-wide comprehensive middle school plan, and yet the only one that exists is the Ward 5 plan. After several months of meetings with Ward 5 parents, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced last month a plan for 3 new middle schools in Ward 5.
However, Ward 5 is a political boundary that has no relation to school boundaries. Just as half of Ward 3 children feed into Ward 2's Hardy Middle School, and half of Ward 2 children feed into Shaw @ Garnet Patterson Middle School in Ward 1, so Ward 5 children feed into districts in neighboring wards and vice versa. The only reason to plan middle schools by ward is if a Councilmember demanded such a plan.
DCPS is correct that a city-wide, comprehensive middle school plan is what is needed. Parents were led to believe that such a plan existed and was the basis for tapping Pope to lead a new arts magnet middle school.
If a city-wide middle school plan is being created, DCPS should be more transparent about it as it has been with its Ward 5 school planning. If such a plan is not in the works, then it should become a top priority for DCPS. A comprehensive, city-wide middle school plan is the most effective way to retain District families who will otherwise move to the suburbs.
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.
A new book on Michelle Rhee, The Bee Eater by journalist Richard Whitmire, reports an eyebrow-raising claim: That former Hardy Middle School principal Patrick Pope manipulated the admissions process to reduce the numbers of poor students gaining admission to the school.
Could this be true?
A high-level education administrator who served in the Fenty administration confirmed to Greater Greater Washington that this was a real concern of former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her deputies.
Rhee and her team discovered that Hardy, whose students are 75% black, had a far lower percentage of poor students than other schools with a similar racial makeup, despite students being selected by a lottery.
Officials worried that Pope was making Hardy into a haven for out-of-boundary, well-off African-American students, disadvantaging others from poorer backgrounds. On the other hand, the breakdown is similar to that of magnet schools, suggesting the disparity could also simply have resulted from Hardy changing from a typical neighborhood school into a de facto magnet school.
Rhee reassigned Pope away from his position as principal of the successful Hardy Middle School in May 2010 over the objections of many parents, teachers and students. We now know that this issue was in her mind when she made that decision.
Instead, Rhee tasked Pope with designing and eventually leading a new arts-focused magnet middle school that was to open in Fall 2011. Design and funding concerns have delayed the new school's implementation for a year.
Hardy Middle School, located at the northern edge of Georgetown, draws 85% of its students from the out-of-boundary lottery. Only 15% of its students come from within its boundary of Georgetown, Burleith, Glover Park and Palisades. 75% of its students are black, while the surrounding neighborhoods are much more white.
The debate over reassigning Pope
Pope's supporters have mounted a vocal campaign to return Pope to Hardy that continues to this day. While some of Pope's support has come from in-boundary parents, the vast majority of those testifying at hearings and leading the campaign for Pope's reinstatement are out-of-boundary parents.
These parents have claimed that Rhee's removal of Pope as principal was an attempt to "whitewash" the mostly black school by replacing him with a principal who will reach out to in-boundary families. As evidence, they point to a meeting Rhee held with parents of students attending Key Elementary, in the Palisades, which feeds into Hardy. The subject of the meeting, held at a private home in the Palisades, was the dissatisfaction of Key parents with Hardy.
Rhee and her staff never publicly explained what, if anything, Rhee wished that Pope had done differently at Hardy. This silence left a void that has been filled with the claims of Pope's supporters that Rhee removed Pope because he wouldn't reach out to in-boundary, usually white, parents of elementary school children to recruit them to attend Hardy.
It now appears that, while Rhee and her deputies viewed Hardy Middle School as unwelcoming to in-boundary white students, they viewed it as far more unwelcoming to poor students. Rhee and her staff were convinced that Pope was filtering out poor students when selecting out-of-boundary applicants.
The lottery and a principal's discretion
DCPS conducts the lottery, whose process doesn't consider a student's race, income level, or academic ability. However, there is also a waitlist for students who don't get admitted through the standard lottery, and principals have much more leeway there.
Furthermore, it's up to the principal how many out-of-boundary spaces to make available through the lottery. The fewer lottery spaces, the more students will need to be pulled from the waitlist. It's this waitlist process which education officials believed Pope used to admit students from more well-off families.
While Hardy had been a typical neighborhood school when Pope became principal, Pope added an arts focus to Hardy and instituted a special application process that included a site visit by applicants.
Most principals select out-of-boundary students off of their waiting list in the order in which they entered the waitlist, that is, blind. Parents have often wondered if Pope selected out-of-boundary students blind as well, or if he used information from the application process to cherry-pick certain students off the out-of-boundary waitlist.
Education officials, Whitmire says, became convinced that Pope was doing just that:
To Rhee and her staff, it looked as if Pope's student selection process at Hardy weeded out lower-income black children who might not fit in (read: be disruptive) and possibly even special education students.Whitmire spoke with Pope, and writes that "Pope takes strong exception to the suggestion that his application process discriminated against any students."
However, the conclusion of Rhee's staff was that "a selection process that separates out the 'wrong' sort of black families, as Rhee and her staff concluded Pope was doing, was just wrong."
Why prefer out-of-boundary, well-off students?
Why would a principal try to increase admissions of out-of-boundary students, particularly out-of-boundary students that are economically advantaged?
According to the former DCPS official, a common problem in big city school systems is principals who try to fill up their buildings with out-of-boundary students in order to reduce complaints from parents.
In-boundary parents often feel more entitled to complain about teachers, curricula, and other school conditions. Out-of-boundary students and their parents, on the other hand, tend to be more appreciative of the opportunity to attend the school.
Why would a principal go even further and filter low-income students out of the out-of-boundary waitlist? Low income students do have a greater likelihood of creating disciplinary problems. Reducing their numbers would help a principal to improve discipline at the school. That would also build even more support from the other parents.
The concern of many DCPS officials, in other words, was this. By transforming Hardy Middle School into a haven for economically-advantaged African-American students, Pope was able to deliver discipline and academic results that pleased previous superintendents while making entitled in-boundary parents, and poor students, problems for other principals to deal with.
It's unclear if Pope received permission from DCPS to base his out-of-boundary waitlist selections solely on information from his admissions process, or whether the process was intended by DCPS merely to set expectations of out-of-boundary students.
The former DCPS official suspects that former superintendents didn't ask many questions about the admissions process because Pope was known as a principal who was in control of his building. Rhee and her staff, however, saw the demographic data, according to Whitmire, and started asking questions.
A look at the data
A look at demographic data for DC schools lends support to this claim, while it also raises questions about whether weeding out poor students was Pope's intent or simply the effect of running a de facto magnet school.
No middle school in DC has as large a gap between the percentage of African-American students and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students as Hardy Middle School. Students are typically classified as economically disadvantaged if they qualify for free or reduced price lunches.
The percentage of low-income students is generally closely correlated with the percentage of African-American students at DC schools. The other 9 Grade 6-8 schools admit on average 87% as many low-income students as black students.
Hardy, on the other hand, had 420 students in the 2009-2010 school year, 312 (75%) of whom were African-American and 170 (41%) of whom were low-income. Hardy thus admits only 54% as many low-income students as black students.
If Hardy admissions looked like the other 9 schools, low-income students would make up 272 students, or 65% of the student body. This is a far higher increase of students (102 students, or 24%) than any expect to see from in-boundary students in the near future, and one that would mostly result from only 3 years of blind admissions.
Is there a reasonable explanation for this unique disparity at Hardy Middle School? One possible explanation is that any school with an admissions process is going to weed out poor students.
In fact, a look at Washington's magnet high schools shows demographics similar to that of Hardy Middle School.
Perhaps the unique demographics of Hardy were not the result of any specific intent to make poor students another principal's problem. Perhaps they were the unintended effect of using an application process to select students off of the Hardy waitlist with the best essays and in-person interviews.
The future of Hardy and Pope
Leaders of the campaign to reinstate Pope at Hardy complain about a rise in disruptive behavior and a drop in commitment to the arts program in the current school year.
It's revealing to note, however, that the current year's admissions waitlist was managed last summer not by Pope, who had been reassigned by then, but by his successor. Is this change simply a result of Hardy becoming more welcoming to economically disadvantaged students?
Leaders of the campaign to reinstate Pope also argue, as noted above, that the removal of Pope as principal of Hardy was an attempt to make Hardy more acceptable to in-boundary white families. Ironically, however, the change to a blind admissions process will make that more difficult.
Admitting students more randomly will likely increase the number of poor students at Hardy by up to 100 students in only 3 years. Sadly, that would statistically also increase the number of disciplinary problems, likely making Hardy less appealing for parents choosing between Hardy and private schools.
Is this right or wrong?
Should a middle school that had been open to out-of-boundary students regardless of economic status have been transformed into one disproportionately closed to poor students?
Should the plea of Pope's supporters to maintain this system be denied for reasons of economic equity?
The big difference between the magnet high schools mentioned above and Hardy is that the magnet schools were created as magnet schools, whereas Patrick Pope transformed Hardy, with some degree of DCPS approval, into a de facto magnet school.
Given the dire state of child poverty, which is a moral stain on our city, this seems like a bad idea. A better idea would be to create a new middle school that is explicitly a magnet school, thus increasing educational options for all students. This is, in fact, exactly what Chancellor Henderson says she is doing.
The new magnet middle school will be the first in the DC school system. Placing Pope at the helm of the new school would leverage his real strengths in building magnet schools versus running a standard neighborhood school. Chancellor Henderson's plan with regard to Hardy and a new magnet middle school thus enables us to focus on increasing educational options for all children regardless of race or economic status.
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