It’s going to be a red-letter year for Cordova Middle Optional School students. Just ask the new principal, Christopher Hardiman.
“Aim high,” said Hardiman. “That’s what I tell our students every day. I told my teachers, ‘You’re going to get tired of hearing me say it, but that’s what we want from our students.’
“Kids need structure. Kids want structure.”
Hardiman’s administrative style sends him daily through the halls, in and out of classrooms, talking with students, conferring with teachers, and checking on staff.
Gone are the days when principals spent most of their day in an office, sitting at a desk, Hardiman said.
“The district’s instructional leadership expects us to know firsthand what goes on in the classroom,” said Hardiman. “Inspect what you expect. Observing in the classroom provides the opportunity for feedback, and feedback helps our teachers do a better job.”
Cordova Middle Optional School was bustling with activity Wednesday (Aug. 3) as parents and students lined up to complete registration and take care of other last-minute details before the first day of school on Monday (Aug. 8).
Hardiman is particularly excited about an initiative of Memphis-Shelby County Schools – SEL (social emotional learning).
“Coming back from the pandemic and all that our students had to endure, this program has proven to be of great value,” he said.
“We want our children to be well-rounded, emotionally whole individuals. SEL allows students in a weekly session to de-escalate conflict, talk through disputes. There is even a re-set room where things can be worked out.”
Public school systems across the nation have SEL programs. They consist of comprehensive exercises “for character development, positive mental health, social and emotional wellness, behavior intervention, and restorative practices for schools of all sizes,” according to the Navigate360 SEL website.
Academic performance and classroom behavior improves, students learn to manage their emotions and make better decisions, and students are encouraged to have positive attitudes about themselves and those with whom they interact, according to program facilitators using the program,
“Students are able to just stop and think about what they are doing before they do something irrational,” said Hardiman. “The program generates a spirit of peace for both students and staff. And that’s a good thing.”
It is little wonder that Hardiman, a Morehouse College man, prides himself on inspiring young lives to shoot for the stars.
“Aim high,” students are exhorted every morning.
At Southwind High School in 2018, Hardiman created a bastion of self-respect and character.
“The 100 Leading Men of Southwind” was founded to teach young men how to carry themselves, how to dress, how to dine – all the things young men should know.
“I remember how we started,” said Hardiman. “We had announced that we were starting the organization. About 150 boys show up in the gym.
“But that gym was filled from one end to the other with men in the community who showed up to mentor those youngsters. They showed every one of those boys how to tie a tie.”
The organization continues at Southwind, with the name changed to “100 Leading Gentleman of Southwind.”
“Now there is an organization for girls as well,” said Hardiman. “It’s all about seeing a need and addressing it. Our boys and girls needed mentorship. And I wanted to find a way to address that need.”
On Monday (August 8) when 650 students “walk through my doors … they belong to me,” said Hardiman.
“Our children need us, and we need the community to stand with us. I think we have been blessed with a caring community. Oh, yes, I would say it’s going to be a very good year.”