Greenfield superintendent finalist Harper-Ewert has strong ties to community
GREENFIELD — After starting her teaching career in Greenfield, Jordana Harper-Ewert wants to return in July as the department’s next superintendent.
The 32-year-old Amherst resident is one of two finalists vying to succeed retiring Superintendent Susan Hollins. She’ll visit town on Wednesday to tour the schools, meet staff and residents and interview with the Greenfield School Committee.
Harper-Ewert, who currently oversees 15 elementary schools as a chief schools officer in Springfield, grew up in Amherst and spent her junior and senior high school years at Greenfield Community College as a dual-enrolled student. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College, she took a one-year teaching job at the Greenfield Center School.
“I had a really positive experience in Greenfield,” said Harper-Ewert. “It struck me as a community that was very dedicated to education, very committed to an honest appraisal of where things are but ... (also) forward-looking.”
Harper-Ewert ascended quickly to an administrative role, teaching for three years in Springfield and Amherst elementary schools before becoming principal of a Chicopee elementary school in July 2007. She was there until January 2013, when she joined the Springfield administration as a chief schools officer.
In that role, she supervises 15 elementary schools, working with administrators and teachers to develop budgets and implement new Common Core educational standards. She’s also a member of Superintendent Daniel Warwick’s cabinet and helps him make district-level decisions.
Those schools have improved under Harper-Ewert’s watch, Warwick told Greenfield school board member Francia Wisnewski earlier this month. He called Harper-Ewert’s greatest strength her instructional leadership and said she’s worked effectively with principals to prioritize and organize new initiatives for the schools, according to Wisnewski’s site visit report.
She doesn’t believe that her career-long focus on elementary schools will hurt her ability to supervise a K-12 district.
“Obviously there will be a learning curve,” she said. “I’m very honest about where I have areas of expertise and I look to partner with people where there’s things that I can learn, as well.”
Any conversations about new initiatives or curriculum changes must involve teacher input, she said. Members of the Springfield Education Association told Wisnewski that Harper-Ewert has been an effective communicator who listens to teacher’s concerns. They said the union doesn’t want to lose her.
School Committee Vice-Chairwoman Denise Hurst also had praise for Harper-Ewert, calling her “a very bright woman” who has done creative and important work to improve the Springfield schools.
While school principals are the ones building their site budgets, Harper-Ewert she said she meets with each one to evaluate what impact the spending will have on students. She’s also part of the team that builds the final district budget.
Harper-Ewert called families a “critical component” of the learning process and said she loves working with parents. She’d want to continue doing that in Greenfield and said together they may be able to identify needs in the community that have not yet been addressed.
She was one of three finalists for the Northampton superintendent job, but that school board instead chose John Provost earlier this month.
Harper-Ewert will visit Greenfield schools throughout the day on Wednesday, leading up to a 5 p.m. community meet-and-greet event in the Greenfield Community College library, accessible on the main campus’ third floor. Her public interview with the School Committee begins at 6:30 p.m. in the library.
The School Committee will either vote to enter contract negotiations with Harper-Ewert or James O’Shea, or decide to go with an interim candidate and re-open the search in the fall. A vote could happen as soon as Wednesday night.
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