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Greenfield Public Schools

Greenfield School Committee picks Harper-Ewert as next superintendent

Jordana Harper-Ewert chats with second grade teacher Ann Mary Cloutier at Newton School in Greenfield on Wednesday during a tour of the building.
Recorder/Micky Bedell

Jordana Harper-Ewert chats with second grade teacher Ann Mary Cloutier at Newton School in Greenfield on Wednesday during a tour of the building. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

GREENFIELD — Greenfield School Committee members needed only 20 minutes of discussion to agree they all wanted Jordana Harper-Ewert as the department’s next superintendent.

After interviewing the 32-year-old Amherst resident for nearly 80 minutes Wednesday night, the board voted unanimously to give her the job, subject to successful contract negotiations. Members Maryelen Calderwood and Margaret Betts will begin drafting a contract immediately.

If negotiations go as expected, Harper-Ewert will secure her first superintendent appointment and will take over in July for retiring Superintendent Susan Hollins.

“She is a rockstar. She is a gem,” member Daryl Essensa told the board during deliberations. “I am happy we are getting the opportunity to grab her ... for a length of time where she can really make a difference.”

The committee selected Harper-Ewert, a Springfield chief schools officer, over Harvard principal James O’Shea. Two other finalists, put forth by a selection committee, withdrew from contention in early April.

Harper-Ewert, a lifelong western Massachusetts resident, began her career 11 years ago as a Greenfield Center School teacher. She quickly ascended the education ladder, earning a Chicopee principal position in 2007 and a Springfield chief schools officer job six years later.

In her interview answers, Harper-Ewert cited past experiences she’d had on the job. She told the board how she collaborated with teachers to form a new evaluation system, advocated for better professional development time for paraprofessionals and organized meetings with principals to hear their concerns and comments.

Just like O’Shea had on Tuesday night, Harper-Ewert stressed a student-first approach in her decision making. She said that the department should use all types of student data — including MCAS scores, internal district tests, academic growth and attendance — to assess whether programs were worth continuing.

She said she was passionate about fighting for student opportunities, including looking out for the interests of special education students. And she said she had experience in fiscally-strapped districts with high percentages of low-income or homeless students.

Member Margaret Betts said her biggest concern about Harper-Ewert is that she would take the Greenfield job and then immediately move on within a few years. But she believed Harper-Ewert was sincere when the finalist said she wanted to stay and make a difference in Greenfield.

“I am very committed to western Massachusetts,” said Harper-Ewert. “My entire career has been here and that’s not an accident.”

Many of the school board members said they were impressed by both candidates.

But they all felt that Harper-Ewert was the better fit in Greenfield and appreciated her thorough interview responses. Harper-Ewert’s interview lasted about 25 minutes longer than O’Shea’s, in large part because she made sure to answer each portion of the sometimes three- or four-part questions.

Harper-Ewert toured the Greenfield schools Wednesday and met with administrators, teachers, students and parents. She said she was pleasantly surprised by how excited students appeared in the classrooms and hallways, and felt she could build off of and accelerate the department’s already good momentum.

“The schools here in Greenfield are doing well overall,” she said. “People are beginning to look at Greenfield and say, ‘That’s a place where I want my children to go to school.’”

Mayor William Martin said the school department has grown tremendously in the past several years.

“When we started (the search), we said, ‘We’re going to get the best because the best wants to come here,’” he said. “We expected this exceptional person ... and we have selected that person.”

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264, on Twitter follow: @RecorderShores

Good choice! I felt MR. O'Shea's answers were a little flat, doesn't mean he wasn't qualified, maybe he just doesn't interview well.

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