Shawn Hardnett: Beacon Of Hope
Going above and beyond to educate those who need it most, he illuminates their future, offers a role model, and makes them a part of a legacy.
He was told that North Forest was a “wasteland in Houston.” That was exactly why he was determined to go. Though weary from years of work in the struggling education system in New York, he was focused on entering one of the lowest performing districts in Texas as a force of change.
“We opened the school for black and brown boys, taking the lowest performing demographic out of the lowest performing district. Now, these kids are outperforming the state in Reading and Math,” says Shawn Hardnett.
His title is Founder and Chief Executive Officer for Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys Public Charter School. That said, he has proudly worn many other worthy titles – school founder, leadership coach, principal, educational consultant and, most notably – teacher. What Hardnett does may not be obvious to the casual observer, but his results clearly are, and they are profound.
You can see it in the smile of a child who received his first passing grade, in the glisten in the eyes of a young teenager as they find hope again. They are often the disadvantaged in society who were told that they wouldn’t amount to much in life. Today, many of these same young men flourish in a light sparked from within. A light that can’t dim as it comes from a source within and heralds a different outcome for their future.
Shawn Hardnett is a part of what makes that difference. He doesn’t deal in titles, he deals in people, in futures — in the futures of youth who may be striving to regain hope.
Following in His Footsteps
“I had a favorite teacher, Mr. Wolfe. He was a teacher who just built an awesome relationship with me and maintained that relationship through some pretty tough times, and through some difficult decisions that I had to make.” Hardnett says.
In turn, Hardnett heard the calling himself. Aside from all his successes and job titles, he has remained a teacher at heart. The fact is, he still teaches 4th Grade Math today. He is a product of the very communities that he now serves — growing up in a cohort of 29 neighborhood boys, 17 of whom served time in prison, 3 who are deceased. Only 5 graduated from high school and Hardnett was the only one to go to college and earn a degree.
“One day he [Mr. Wolfe] said to me, ‘You know, you’re a flake. But you’re going to be a really great teacher.” On that day, Hardnett decided 2 things – one, that he was going to go to college and two, that he would one day be a great teacher. As always, Mr. Wolfe was right! Hardnett has become a great teacher and Mr. Wolfe would surely be proud of the good work that Hardnett has undertaken.
Embarking on the Mission
In 1996, Hardnett started teaching at Frederick Middle School, the very middle school he himself graduated from. Then in 2003, he joined the ranks of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) as a founding teacher at KIPP Bayview Academy in San Francisco. From there, he went on to serve as the founder of KIPP Polaris College Preparatory Academy for Boys in Houston. At KIPP, he oversaw a growth of more than 50 percentage points in math and reading for African American and Latino boys.
Following that, New Leaders Inc. became only stronger with Hardnett as the Executive Director before he supported the complete turnaround of a multi-year decline in reading scores at a large multi-campus charter school network in DC. He continued as chief of schools for another multi-campus charter school network before founding and acting as CEO for the innovative and progressive Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS.
Father to the Fatherless
When he developed the all-boys charter middle school in Washington D.C., it was the needs of these young men that he had in mind. Hardnett had a fractured relationship with a father who did not acknowledge him as his son until he was well into adulthoodhood. He knew that many of the young men that he would serve would have similar backgrounds. He knew how to connect and, to teach connection.
After serving in public education, immersed in that world and all of its aspects for twenty years, he was ready to build something that specifically addressed the needs of young men as they described themselves. Hardnett had been a teacher, dean, principal, principal manager, director, and even academic superintendent. Well-educated for the job, he has two Master of Science degrees in Educational Leadership and Elementary Education.
“Intervention, if done well in middle school, has an incredible impact on the trajectory and life outcomes for children,” says Hardnett.
With the support of funds from Education Forward DC, CityBridge Education, and New Schools Venture, among others, his dream to create a program and environment for the advancement of underprivileged boys became a reality. The support hasn’t stopped. The Clark Foundation and the England Family are among the others that have joined in to support this vital mission. His vision is that one day, these young men will take his job . . . and yours. The mission is for these boys to build faith in themselves and follow their own dreams. In 2018, Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys (grades 4-8) received conditional approval to begin operation from the DC Public Charter School Board.
“The core foundation of the program is Authentic Relationships. Lots of programs talk about the importance of relationships but at Statesmen, we mean it. We don’t just do it lip service. We codify it in words and actions. We teach it. We practice it. We’re building a rubric to evaluate it. We will eventually evaluate staff and teachers based on it. We’re going to make sure that at Statesmen, relationships stands out,” says Hardnett.
Making a Lasting Impact
In 2018, the programs’ founding team appeared on the Steve Harvey Show, where an office superstore donated a $5,000 gift card. Their appearance inspired 50 others to donate an additional $4,500.
“The boys continue to say in various ways, ‘Love us, don’t be afraid of us. Build relationships with us and then have an expectation for us – a high expectation,’” said Hardnett on the show.
Today, he continues the pursuit of equal opportunity for his boys. It is due to people like him, that we have some of the greatest thinkers and iconoclasts today. The public education system is full of diamonds in the rough, and educators such as Shawn Hardnett know how to apply the right pressure, at the right time, to bring out the value that hides within every young person, no matter the zipcode they came from or the color or their skin.
We at Throomers applaud Shawn Hardnett as a true hero to the youth of our nation, enabling them to become agents of social change for the betterment of their own communities and to the benefit of our society as a whole. Learn more about Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys at www.statesmenboys.org.