Sharonica Hardin-Bartley works to close opportunity gaps at University City schools

Sharonica Hardin-Bartley

Alumna Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, superintendent of the School District of University City, strives to advance social justice and racial equity by giving students a voice. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Like many great teachers, Mrs. Vaughn encouraged her class to follow their dreams. Her words lodged in fourth-grader Sharonica Hardin-Bartley’s heart.

But unlike most students, Hardin-Bartley absorbed that faith from her teacher and headed back to the classroom.

Mrs. Vaughn didn’t know it, but she was one of the first influences that ultimately led Hardin-Bartley to a career devoted to changing children’s lives. Now in her fifth year as superintendent of the School District of University City, Hardin-Bartley works to advance social justice and racial equity by giving students a voice.

She’s a firm believer that effective educators have to love their jobs and their students.

“It has to be a passion that burns in the bottom of your belly,” she says. “It’s too hard, and it’s too important. Teachers
have a tremendous amount of power to either positively or negatively impact a child. It requires courage and tenacity.”

Hardin-Bartley was drawn to serving the most vulnerable students and began her career teaching special education. A few years later, she became principal at Adams Elementary School, then served as chief human resources officer for the St. Louis Public School District and later as assistant superintendent for the Ritenour School District. Her passion for learning led her to the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she earned her PhD in educational leadership and policy studies in 2014.

In her current position as superintendent, she influences more than 2,500 students. It requires taking on widely varying roles – counselor, social worker, teacher, human resources and, this year, medical expert.

“I’m the orchestra conductor,” she says. “It’s my job to make sure we have one beautiful song that reflects all of the different parts doing their own thing but coming together for the good of a common cause – to ensure we create a modern learning experience for all children so they can realize their full potential.”

Within the district, she has redesigned the gifted program to include more children of color and made extracurricular activities like robotics affordable for all students.

Over the summer, several University City High School students conducted COVID-related research through the Collaborative Laboratory Internships and Mentoring Blueprint program at UMSL. Programs like CLIMB, established as part of the university’s commitment to the St. Louis region, drew Hardin- Bartley’s attention.

“UMSL has really demonstrated an attempt to close some opportunity gaps, particularly with children of color,” she says. “I felt that I could explore my passion, which is equity and justice for all children, in a way that didn’t have a lot of limits.”

After decades in education, her passion hasn’t waned. She feels a sense of accomplishment every time she hears a former student is doing well.

“My students keep me motivated, centered, humbled,” she says. “I’m amazed at their resilience and persistence and strength.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2020 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email


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