Hardy Principal Heads into New School Year with Confidence

'Rocky period' of Georgetown's middle school is a thing of the past for Mary Stefanus.

Mary Stefanus school year as the new principal at , which had three principals come and go between 2010 and 2011.

As she begins her second year leading the Georgetown middle school, Stefanus transitions from providing stability to becoming an advocate for the school, its teachers, students and staff.

"I walked into a school that has an experienced staff, is strong instructionally and just went through a rocky period of time. I think it’s that simple," Stefanus said.

When she started the school year she felt that her role was to provide stability and then to move the school forward.

"My goal was really to develop relationships with people, to get to know the staff and to really kind of stabilize...through leadership," she said.

Discipline was among the concerns raised by parents in the school year prior to Stefanus' arrival.

But she was firm that her role was not that of a disciplinarian. She managed instances of misconduct as needed, she said, but giving students a very clear set of expectations provides a behavioral code that is enforceable and that students "get."

"We have three expectations in the building for kids and that is: One, make a positive contribution; Two, be respectful; Three, do the right thing," she said.

By giving students clear expectations, she said, she gives them ownership of their school and they embrace it.

In reflecting on the 2011-2012 year, Stefanus said she felt "great" about what she, the staff and students had accomplished.

"I feel like we are on the move," she said.

In the new school year Hardy will have two notable changes, — and expanded special education programs for the deaf and hard of hearing and children who fall within the autism spectrum.

Stefanus said she took on the special education components at Hardy because, simply, "I was asked."

She said there are not many schools in Northwest that offer such resources.

"The world is made up of a diverse group of people," she added.

And though she gained two programs and even added a language teacher, Hardy is one of dozens of schools District-wide to lose a librarian.

Of DCPS, Stefanus said, "We are living very skinny."

While test scores improved last school year, she said, there is still work to do and there were admittedly parents who were not happy with where Hardy compared to other D.C. middle schools.

Stefanus said she was all-too-familiar with "bright flight," which is what she called the tendency for parents of high-achieving children or parents of means to pull their student from public middle schools.

But, she said, through hard work and communication schools can shake that perhaps unearned reputation. The school she led in St. Louis had similar circumstances, but Stefanus said she worked with the teachers, parents and students to eventually earn her school the title of Gold Star School.

"If you want your school to be good, then as a parent, you do your part," she said.

And she added, "Test scores are not the only indication" of a good school. She tries to strike a balance between test scores and "growing" kids.

"That’s really what, to me, the purpose of school is: better kids. Whatever that looks like," she said.

Stefanus encouraged parents who want their neighborhood school to be a better school to enroll their child and make their own contribution to the school's growth.

So while she admits Hardy is not perfect, Stefanus said she and her staff have a plan and are working to move the school in the right direction.

"Here’s the bottom line, this is a good school," she said, adding, "And if parents want their child to go to a good school, Hardy is going to offer that."


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