First they were forced to schlep from one end of town to another as they waited for their school to be renovated. Finally, they had the brand-spanking-new facility and the top-rate magnet program of their dreams. Parents, students and faculty worked hard to shape Rose L. Hardy Middle School into one of the city's premier education centers. That was all before June 2010 -- before then-chancellor Michelle Rhee reassigned the school's popular principal, Patrick Pope, to plan the creation of a citywide arts magnet middle school. The less-experienced Dana Nerenberg replaced him. She is principal of Hyde-Addison Elementary School. Hardy was added to her portfolio.

In a letter dated Jan. 7 and addressed to Nerenberg, Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Mayor Vincent Gray and other elected officials, Candy Miles-Crocker, a parent leader, complained that the "school has gone down to a level unfortunately, that looks like what many describe as a typical D.C. public school." She cited as examples increasing violence among students, a student-set fire and multiple allegations of corporal punishment against the same teacher in two weeks.

"The administration seems to have such low expectations for middle schools," Miles-Crocker told me. "[But] when you're used to superior, it's hard to go down to average. We're all very frustrated."

Hardy always has been one of the city's educational gems. I tracked its development during my years as a reporter, and more recently as a columnist. The principal and faculty ran a well-managed school where academic excellence was demanded and expected.

Like many, I opposed Rhee's removal of Pope -- although I understood and supported her mission of reshaping Hardy to better serve the needs and demands of families in its surrounding Ward 2 neighborhood. But instead of improving the school, it appears DCPS officials have made a mess of things.

Sources told me parents and students plan to demonstration their dissatisfaction later this week. They likely will demand Pope's return.

"Clearly Hardy is not the place it was last year," Henderson told me during a brief interview during which she confirmed there had been student fights and a "small fire." She said an investigation of the allegations of corporal punished has thus far not yielded sufficient evidence to support removal of the teacher.

Henderson said she will provide additional "resources and [put] supports in place so Hardy can have as successful a year" as possible. She said she would send a letter home to parents outlining her plan of action.

But already there are four administrators at the school -- Nerenberg, two assistant principals and a principal intern. How much more help is needed?

Meanwhile, Pope -- the man who built Hardy into an award-winning school -- reportedly is spending his days in some nondescript office pushing paper, planning for a citywide magnet that mimics Hardy. Considering the city's budget crisis, that project will remain a figment of central administrators' imagination.

The simple solution at Hardy would be returning Pope. But Henderson told me that won't happen.

"You're destroying the school for what reason?" asked Miles-Crocker.

Good question.

Jonetta Rose Barras's column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at