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Behind the Principal Selection Process at Hardy Middle School

Dr. Mary Stefanus was recently selected to serve as the new principal at Hardy Middle School. How was she picked?

After a year of and , ends another school year with the current principal leaving and a new one ready to take the helm. will be the new principal at Hardy beginning July 5, as she replaces , who took over mid-year for Principal .

There are many differences in comparing this year's leadership transition to last year's, but one of the primary differences is that parents, staff, students and the community had a say in the selection of the new principal.

A principal selection team composed of current parents, teachers, support staff, students, feeder school parents, community members and the instructional superintendent for Hardy, Eric Redwine, reviewed four candidates for the Hardy principal position.

But before that could happen, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) officials culled through the many resumes that came through their office throughout the school year. This year alone, DCPS has received some 500 applications for school leadership positions.

Sheila Sarem, the director of recruitment and selection for DCPS, said they "spend all year long scouring the Maryland and Virginia area and across the entire nation, looking for great principals with proven successes."

Hilary Darilek, director of principal human capital for DCPS, said they are "looking for a core set of skills and competencies" in any candidate they review.

Candidates are drawn into a selection pool in a variety of ways. DCPS will pull principals from within the District or reach out to principals in other systems when working with them on best practices. Then there are the self-identifying candidates who send in resumes or express an interest.

"Once we build a pool, the chancellor reviews the candidates" and then seeks "instruction from the superintendent and from the school community," Darilek explained.

This process "happens at every school" and the "only time it doesn’t happen is if it is mid-year or if the principal put in a strong succession plan," Darilek said.

Last year, Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced mid-year that Principal Patrick Pope would be replaced at the end of the year by Principal Dana Nerenberg, who would manage both Hyde-Addison Elementary and Hardy. Since that time, a group of parents, teachers and students and members of the wider Georgetown community have protested the decision.

Council member Jack Evans went so far as to of Pope to Hardy. He has been mum on Stefanus' selection.

This year, DCPS made sure to involve the community in choosing the new head of the Georgetown middle school.

Once acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson selected a list of candidates, the Hardy principal selection team was tasked with interviewing them and providing comments back to the main office.

As a practice, DCPS officials do not indicate a preference for candidates and do not provide a set list of questions to the local selection team.

Rather, they rely on the core competencies mentioned earlier and "we work with the instructional superintendent to make sure these competencies are on the minds of parents" as they develop their own list of interview questions, Sarem said.

The interview is not an open dialogue and instead relies on "the same set of questions" for each candidate so the team can "compare apples to apples," Sarem said.

So how does the selection team indicate a preference in reporting back to DCPS?

It depends. Each school is different, "some want to rank, others don’t want to rank; some have a really clear one-through-four ranking," Sarem said. 

What did the Hardy team do?

Darilek was unwilling to divulge that information since the process was "very confidential."

Patch obtained an email sent by one of the selection team members, in which the member said, "all the candidates we saw were well qualified, but Dr. Stefanus was especially strong."

Later in the same email, the team member writes that, "During the interview process, Dr. Stefanus won strong support across all elements of the selection committee – teachers, parents and feeder school reps." This was a significant achievement given the fractious atmosphere among the various groups at the school this year.

Once the team supplies comments to the chancellor, the final selection is her decision.

Now that the selection is made, Superintendent Redwine will set up a transition plan, a meet-and-greet at the school and individual meetings with faculty and parents.

Sarem said she expects Stefanus will speak with other principals in the system to begin "learning about the district as a whole" and to get a "lay of the land."

Stefanus will move from her current home in Missouri and begin her new position with DCPS in July.

Members of the principal selection team as indicated in the Hardy PTA Newsletter:

Parent representatives: Karen Bates; Susan Catler; Peter Eisler; Deborah Fossett; Barry Hudson; Keenan Keller

Faculty representatives: Barbara Annand; Michael Bethea; Jann'l Henry; Johann Lee; Iris McCrea; Stephanie Stubblefield

Student representatives: Ellice Ellis; Amalya Khashimova

Feeder School representatives: Marcio Duffles; E. Christian Hager; Nick Keenan; Mary McLaughlin; Frank Moore

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