Becoming a school principal a few years out of college isn’t all that common. But at age 25, Jordana Harper-Ewert ’03 was named principal of Sgt. Robert R. Litwin School in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Clearly, she’s one of the “uncommon women” Mount Holyoke is known for graduating.
“While crafting my vision of leadership of an elementary school, I frequently draw upon my course work at MHC and those formative experiences as a student teacher,” says Harper-Ewert. “In both prepracticum and practicum experiences in nearby schools, I felt prepared for the challenges of the classroom.” She also had the opportunity to assist in teaching MHC classes with psychology professor Becky Wai-Ling Packard, and worked as the lead mentor at the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts.
After graduating, Harper-Ewert taught for a year at the Greenfield Center School, a progressive private school in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Then, seeking a more urban experience to balance her private school teaching, she called MHC’s psychology and education department and was put in touch with a contact in the Springfield public schools. “I drove to the school on a Sunday,” she says, “and to my surprise, found that the principal was in the building that day. I went in and introduced myself, explained why I was there, and left a few hours later with a job.”
Harper-Ewert taught in a fourth-grade class with 27 students in a bilingual classroom. The position offered her first exposure to children living in poverty, inner city crimes affecting student life, and the challenges of teaching in an underperforming school faced with takeover by the Department of Education. Inspired by the leadership of the school’s principal, Kathleen Sullivan, she decided to pursue graduate study in administration, and over the next couple years completed her master’s degree.
Although Harper-Ewert has gone far in a short time, her educational journey is by no means over. In addition to working as a principal, she’s earning a Ph.D. in education administration at Lesley University. And--though all of this keeps her busy--she still finds time to return to Mount Holyoke to speak to students about education and administration. A psych-ed major, she says, “was the best choice I could have made.”