Nawal Hamadeh had just completed the 9th grade before emigrating to the United States from Beirut, Lebanon in October 1971.
Despite arriving to a new country with limited knowledge of the language, she would grow to become a pillar in her community by creating a world-renowned charter school system in metro Detroit, making her a true immigrant success story.
Hamadeh has transformed and improved the lives of underserved students by providing them with quality education, and an opportunity to have promising futures.
Sitting in her Dearborn Heights office, Hamadeh gushes with gratitude when she talks about the students she’s served over the years through Hamadeh Educational Services (HES), the charter school system she founded in 1998.
Hamadeh is considered one of the Arab American community’s most successful and influential businesswomen. It’s hard for her to go out in public and avoid being thanked for her work.
"I'm thanked all the time, and that is the best thing I get out of this. It really means the world to me to know that I have made a difference in the lives of students," she said.
Hamadeh and HES are the recipients of several local, state, national and international recognitions.
U.S. News and World Report recognize Star International Academy of Dearborn Heights as one of America’s best high schools for 2007-2012.
Universal Academy of Detroit, Universal Learning Academy in Westland, Noor International Academy in Sterling Heights are also part of the HES. Hamadeh serves as the founder, CEO and superintendent of all four schools.
For the past four years HES academies have been recognized by the Michigan Department of Education as schools of excellence. HES was named one of America's 15 most promising charter school groups by the Charter School Growth Fund. In 2010 Star International Academy was recognized by the MDE as the "Distinguished Title I" school in 2011 as “Beating the Odds." Star International Academy and Universal Academy are recognized as IB world schools.
Hamadeh started HES because she wanted to give back to the community, and look after the youth in it by providing them with quality education.
While she acknowledges public and private schools as accredited learning institutions she thought there was room for much improvement.
Today the curriculum at HES academies is aligned with state, national and international standards. Hamadeh put the curriculum together herself, and attributes much of the school system’s success to her staff. “I couldn’t do it all by myself,” she said.
The academies take pride in their diversity, and creating learning environments where all cultures are embraced. When Hamadeh created HES she wanted to assure no student felt left out because of their ethnicity.
Before launching HES, she worked as an educator. Throughout her career she saw how some students were "pushed to the back" because of the color of their skin, accents or the way they dressed.
"I felt ownership, like I really needed to make a difference to change that. I felt our schools can really accommodate the needs of these students where they will not feel different and odd and ashamed of who they are because of their accents, heritage or background. I wanted them to be proud of who they are regardless, even if they are hearing impaired. It does not matter," she said.
HES serves 2700 students through its K-12 schools, and has over 370 staff members. In many ways the academies have given back to more than just the students. They have drawn residents into surrounding neighborhoods, and some of the schools were vacant buildings in communities before HES transformed them.
Many of its staff members place their own children at the academies. The graduation rate and number of students who go on to pursue college careers is impressive.
According to Hamadeh 100 percent of HES students are accepted into college and 100 percent graduate. Over 50 percent receive full ride or partial scholarships.
Today all HES schools have waiting lists. At Star International Academy there are 700 people on the waiting list. "It's a good problem that we have. It's a reflection of the good quality of the program,” Hamadeh said.
People have moved from other states to send their children to the academies, which have students who live as far as Ann Arbor.
Some of its alumni have come back to the academies in the capacity of board, or faculty members. "They are a symbol of our success,” Hamadeh said speaking about the alumni.
Hamadeh decided to start HES in 1996, at the time the charter school system movement was on the rise. Her background in education and business would eventually contribute to making HES a success.
"I thought it was the perfect fit for me, where as an educator I could really do what I wanted to do; take my mission, vision and philosophy and fulfill a need within the community, and cater to the needs of students,” she said.
After arriving in the U.S. Hamadeh managed to skip grades 10-12, and was accepted to the University of Detroit after successfully completing a college admission test.
She obtained a B.A. in history and social sciences in only two and a half years in 1974. Initially she had set out to become a lawyer, but went on to receive her master’s degree in educational leadership and secondary principalship from Eastern University.
She also sought a master’s degree in international politics and business administration, while she earned credits in the degree, she never completed it.
In 1976 she married Ali Hamadeh, a mechanical engineer. They moved to Memphis, Tennessee for five years before moving to Saudi Arabia for about 10 years. In Saudi Arabia Hamadeh taught non-Arabic speaking women Arabic for three years and was the head of the English Department at Attarbiya Annamoozajieh for four years before returning to the U.S. in 1989.
She founded the Saturday Arabic School which is still operating at the Islamic Center of America, and was the assistant principal of Crescent Academy in Canton from 1991 to 1995. She also founded the American Islamic Academy for the Islamic Institute of Knowledge and was its principal from 1995 to 1997.
She then founded the Muslim American Youth Academy in Dearborn and left in 1998 to focus on her own charter school projects which would eventually become HES.
Star International Academy and Universal Academy were authorized by Oakland University in 1998. In 2004 she founded the Universal Learning Academy which was authorized by Bay Mills Community College and recently founded Noor International Academy authorized by Central Michigan University.
Hamadeh has four sons, Nader a pharmacist, Majed, a chiropractor, Rami, a computer technology expert and Salim, a resident physician in internal medicine.
While Hamadeh was busy balancing family life and a career, she had lots of energy, was extremely driven and believed there was so much more she could do.
“I was a leader. I was under utilized. That’s exactly what it was,” she said.
She realized she wanted to pursue a career in education when she had her own children. She taught her first child how to read at the age of two. “He was literally reading three letter words. I realized I was a teacher. It was embedded in me,” she said.
By launching the school she not only fulfilled her own dream, but also her father’s, who had always wanted to open up his own school.
Hamadeh has had her fair share of challenges.
"I've had every obstacle you could dream of," said Hamadeh.
To start the charter school system Hamadeh had to refinance her home, and use the money. "We put up our house. It was all on me. Either we lose everything we work for, or we make it. We risked everything we had basically, and it was well worth it,” she said.
One of the most recent challenges involved a high school football scuffle where four seniors from Star International Academy were criminally charged after a football game. Eventually the charges were dropped, after the judge ruled that the football players had done nothing outside the norms of the sport.
"Every time someone or something tried to pull me down I told myself, ‘no you have to stay focused all the time regardless of what arrows come at you. You have to keep going in the right direction. You have to be goal oriented. Don't let anything else distract you, and that's how you will make it. You will rise to the surface with that.”’
Hamadeh says it takes “very strong commitment,” but most importantly passion to be successful at something. “You have to tell yourself there is no room for failure. It takes passion; you really have to be passionate about what you're getting into. You have to love the field you're in. You'll excel in something when you're passionate about it,” she said.
What HES has managed to accomplish under Hamadeh’s leadership in just a little over a decade is nothing short of impressive, and appears to be only a brief glance at the success its promising future holds.
A July 2012 published study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy indicated over 684 Michigan high schools were examined and ranked according to their average academic performance on two key standardized tests, the ACT and Michigan Merit Examination. Among all schools, Star International Academy was honored with the highest rank and score in Michigan, followed closely by Universal Academy with the third highest rank and score.
Despite all her accomplishments, and the recognition she’s received Hamadeh remains humble, and has never lost site of the purpose behind starting HES.
"The students are what drive me. No money on earth can pay me enough to compensate for making a difference in someone’s life. And this is really the reason I started this whole thing," she said.
Hamadeh Educational Services
6919 North Waverly St., Dearborn Hts., MI 48127
For more info, call 313.565.0507 or visit: www.hesedu.com
HES serves 2700 students through its K-12 schools, and has over 370 staff members. U.S. News and World Report recognize Star International Academy of Dearborn Heights as one of America’s best high schools for 2007-2012.
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