The AGBU NYSIP experience was one of the best summers of my life. I had the opportunity to spend over a month of time reflecting on my Armenian spirit, experimenting with different career paths, exploring an exciting city, and making some lifelong friends.
Shortly after college, Hrag Hamalian joined Teach for America, beginning his professional work in urban education teaching high school Biology and Honors Biology at Locke High School in Watts, Los Angeles, where he helped found the School of Math and Science and became head of the Biology Department. To design the charter school Valor Academy, Hamalian completed a year-long fellowship with Building Excellent Schools, a nationally recognized charter-development organization, and a leadership residency at KIPP: Academy of Opportunity, a high-performing Charter Middle School in the Los Angeles area. Valor Academy was founded as a middle school in 2009 in the San Fernando Valley to prepare low-income students for college, with the ultimate goal of creating a successful model for other public middle schools. The school currently serves 480 students in the 5th-8th grades and was recently awarded the California Distinguished School Award, the highest honor bestowed on California Public Schools. Hamalian was recently awarded the Gold Award for the Alumnus of the Decade by Boston College as a result of his work with and commitment to Valor Academy Charter School. Hrag Hamalian graduated from Boston College with a double- major degree in Biology and Honors English. Hamalian holds a Masters in Secondary Education from Loyola Marymount University, and he is currently pursuing a Masters in Business Administration from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Why did you choose your field? What led you to it?
After college, I was planning to eventually go to medical school, but education had always been important to me and I had many educators in my family. Throughout my childhood and into college I taught and volunteered in different educational settings without fully realizing how much I enjoyed it. When I was accepted to the Teach for America program after college, I thought it was a great way for me to jump into a profession that was very appealing to me, and to serve the students and demographic I was passionate about. I was placed in South Central Los Angeles, in one of the lowest performing and violent public high schools in the country. I was shocked by the extreme discrepancy between the public education I had received as a child and the public education system I was currently teaching and operating under. The experience solidified my conviction that every child deserves an excellent public education and motivated me to make a larger impact in the education world.
What is your ultimate goal?
I intend to establish Valor Academy into a premiere model of K-12 public education by launching more schools in more communities. In addition, I intend on creating innovative educational businesses and products focused on improving the quality of education in different contexts and settings.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own school, or any type of business?
There really is no way to know the exact level of challenges you will face so don’t try to psyche yourself out before you get started.
Do your research and prepare, but be even more prepared to fail and get knocked down. You have to be resilient, and determined to stay on the path you need to be on to get things off the ground. Keep your vision in mind always and stay true to your passion. Surround yourself around supportive individuals and remember to thank them in the days of your success, because there will always be way more naysayers than champions of your cause. Stay patient – it took 2 years to get Valor Academy off the ground.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud and astonished at how much further the organization has come by the hard work and motivation of the people that surround me. Valor Academy is not just about Hrag Hamalian, but more about the team I have built around me and those we serve. It is incredibly satisfying and a testament to our success that I could potentially walk away from Valor tomorrow and that the school would continue to have a life of its own. I am extremely proud of the organization I have built, and the followers and supporters we continue to amass each year.
Name someone - a role model - who has had an impact on your life and the decisions you have made, and why.
I would have to say my family. Two generations of my family, really, but especially my parents, who both gave up a lot – and even sacrificed what they could have done for themselves and their careers -- to make sure that my sister and I would have the best education and opportunities growing up.
There has always been an entrepreneurial spirit in my family, including examples like my Grandfather, a Genocide survivor, who launched a textile business with only a second grade education. I have always felt very fortunate to have such great role models in my life and to have had such wonderful experiences that have shaped who I am. I hope to provide the same level of support and education to students who come from impoverished backgrounds.
My success so far has been because I’ve been relentless and that comes directly from my family members. The success of this school was predicated on the values I picked up from my family.