University City Schools Superintendent Sharonica L. Hardin-Bartley is a status-quo disrupter.
“The bravery she shows is unparalleled,” said Christina Groves, middle-school teacher and parent in the district. “It is very clear to those of us who care about the education of all children that the way we do school is not sustainable; it is not helping students grow, and it’s actually designed in many ways to keep the status quo. And Dr. Hardin-Bartley is not at all afraid to disrupt that.”
After Hardin-Bartley became superintendent in 2016, she led the district in drafting a strategic plan that aims to “humanize, personalize and problematize” the learning experience for their students. When she served on the Ferguson Commission’s Youth at the Center workgroup, Hardin-Bartley helped to write the commission’s recommendations for schools, specifically for addressing trauma. She is also a board member for Alive and Well Communities, a nonprofit that educates the region about trauma-informed practices.
Hardin-Bartley brought all that expertise to the table when collectively and collaboratively writing the district’s new plan.
So now when you have a conversation with district educators, it’s a whirlwind of acronyms and out-of-the-box-sounding programs. There’s T.L.I. — Transformational Leadership Institute — which trains teachers on how to build an environment where a “growth mindset” reigns.
There’s C.L.R. — Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning, designed by Sharroky Hollie.
“For any district, it’s so important for the person at the helm to say: Remember that these are human beings, who are also going through lots of different things. And as a district we can’t necessarily address education unless we address them as whole beings,” said Lauren Wright-Jones, a district parent and U. City alumna.
“Since she’s been the superintendent, that has just transformed the way students get to feel in their learning environment and the way their needs are met and addressed each day.”
U. City students are also practicing mindfulness training and are holding restorative circles to resolve conflicts, which have decreased out-of-school suspensions.
“Making restorative practice and restorative justice an integral part of our educational system is something that’s very transformational,” said Kristine Hendrix, U. City Schools board member. “It gets the attention of people even outside of our community.”
Hardin-Bartley grew up in North St. Louis and graduated from Lafayette High School. She earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education and special education from Harris-Stowe State University. She went on to earn her master’s degree in education administration from Saint Louis University and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“I aim to be unflinching in my pursuit of excellence for all children,” Hardin-Bartley said. “We have to be brutally honest about our realities and understand where we are in order to determine where we’re going to go. The systems of oppression of inequality have plagued public schools systems for many, many years, and it’s going to take bold and ambitious action to disrupt those systems.”
She was previously the assistant superintendent for human resources and leadership development for the Ritenour School District. Prior to that, Hardin-Bartley had a 15-year career in St. Louis Public Schools. She is a regional and national speaker on integrating health and well-being, student equity, restorative practices and student voice in the school community. She was a principal writer on state guidelines for trauma-informed schools through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
In March 2019, Hardin-Bartley received the New Superintendent of the Year Award for the St. Louis District by the Missouri Association of School Administrators.
And on Saturday, October 17, Hardin-Bartley will receive the 2020 Stellar Performer in Education Award at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education virtual gala.
The foundation will foster over $1.95 million in scholarships and grants this year for area youth and educators — a true tribute to the brave work of Hardin-Bartley and the other awardees.
Hendrix said Hardin-Bartley is especially deserving of the award because of her “human-centered approach” to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is one of the greatest things that we can be doing right now,” Hendrix said. “Our board has so much trust and faith in the work that she’s doing, and we allowed her the space to create the climate that works best for children.”
The 33rd Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Virtual Gala Weekend will be celebrated online as free virtual events on Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17 on stlamerican.com, the St. Louis American’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. For additional details on how to participate, please visit givebutter.com/SaluteEdu.