The “I” cannot truly exist without the “We” of University City

Posted by Sharonica L. Hardin-Bartley, PhD PHR on 9/12/2022 3:50:00 PM

Girl on playground

SHBOn July 1, 2022, I began my seventh year as the Superintendent of The School District of University City. When I started, my daughter was a preschooler. The District’s current sixth graders had just started kindergarten. And, our most recent graduates were sixth graders. The changes I have seen in these amazing human beings have been profound. As they grew as thinkers and citizens and activists for positive change, the world around them changed dramatically.

In August, we welcomed more than 2,550 students - your beautiful, remarkable and distinctive children - to the 2022-23 school year. On that day, I saw: Smiles. Hugs. Awe. Tears. Anxiety. Handholding. Pride. Confidence. Fear. Relief. Dreams. Hope. And so much Love. What a joy it is to live in the moment with children! 

And yet, I can’t stop reflecting on the past seven years. We were still hurting deeply from the death of Michael Brown, and though voices had been heard in protest, the profound meaning of Black Lives Matter, equity, and humanized policing was just beginning to bubble up. We see more now than then the intense struggle to own and teach authentic African American history in a climate of intolerance. And, yes, COVID-19 and Zoom were not even terms in our language.

It has been intense. Add to that the flash flooding in University City this summer that devastated the homes of many of our children and their parents or caregivers. The strength and fortitude of our families and U. City during this crisis was inspiring. None of us have really had the time or the bandwidth to process what the past seven years really means for our children’s futures. It all seems like too much. 

The pandemic showed us, urgently, that public education must also be reinvented to rise to meet the demands of our youth, and, yes, our ever-changing society. It is predicted that our sweet new kindergartners (dubbed Gen-Alpha) will have, on average, six career changes and 18 different jobs in their adult lifetimes. Read that again: six career changes.

I write this and ponder as we move ahead in partnership at The School District of University City in service of our children. I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. But I do have my compass. Positive adaptation and innovation in the world and in education cannot happen without an intensive commitment to community, equity, and respect for all children. We cannot move forward if we do not fundamentally love and honor children, even as we grapple with differences and sometimes chasms in beliefs. We move ahead together when we find a common purpose - and our purpose is always in service of our children.

We began the 2022-23 school year with the joyful theme of Ubuntu, an African term meaning, “I am because we are.” The “I” cannot truly exist without the “We” of University City. As we move ahead into the next seven years of change, we must build and strengthen our We. We start in our school community by asking this traditional Maasai greeting, “And how are the Children?”  We ask it constantly and act consistently in our planning, adaptation and actions, with the goal that we can, one day, answer “The Children are well.” 

When our children are well, our community is well. As a driven, united and purposeful community, we love and endow our children with the learning, tools, power, resources and voice to influence the future locally, nationally and globally. 

So how do we start? Right now, at this very moment, go find and hug your children. Snuggle with them. Read to them. Respect them. Listen to them. Savor them. Lift them up. Love them. Because they are our why and your I. And they have important work to do in the future. 
Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, PhD, PHR
September 12, 2022