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2022 Dorothy Height Awardee: Deborah Jewell-Sherman, EdD (BS ’76)


Steinhardt alumna Deborah Jewell-Sherman, EdD (BS ’76) knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was three years old.

She grew up in public housing in the Bronx and attended their provided daycare. “The teachers were Black women from the South who had come to NYU, Columbia, and Cornell to earn their master’s degrees because they weren’t allowed to attend graduate schools in the South,” says Jewell-Sherman, or “DJS” to her students and friends. “I wanted to be one of them; I learned very early on the power of education.”

Now the Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Practice in Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), Jewell-Sherman calls these women “a powerful foundation that sustained [her]” in the intervening years, during which she didn’t have another teacher of color until entering NYU Steinhardt as an undergraduate.

Headshot of Deborah Jewell-Sherman

Deborah Jewell-Sherman, EdD (BS ’76)

“NYU was a dream,” says Jewell-Sherman. “People talked about Steinhardt as THE school of education, and I was blessed to be accepted and to attend with a Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship. I was ‘first gen’ and that scholarship made all the difference.”

Her time at NYU was impactful in many ways. After experiencing a traumatic event, Jewell-Sherman was shown support and loving kindness by two Steinhardt administrators when she needed it most.

“NYU gave me an exemplary foundation in teaching and learning, but Martina Parker and Dean Ziobrowski taught me what it means to see beyond someone’s faults and give people grace when they need it,” says Jewell-Sherman. “NYU helped shape how I teach, who I am, and the importance of relevant pedagogy. Just as importantly, the school taught me the power of love and support.”

After graduating from NYU, Jewell-Sherman started her career by completing the circle in a way – she taught at a daycare in Bedford-Stuyvesant. She later instructed adults in Newark, New Jersey, for the NJDOE before moving to Fairfax County, Virginia, to teach in its public school system.

“In the late 1980s, I was recruited to Hampton City Public Schools as a principal, and I was really happy there – I consider it one of my best jobs,” says Jewell-Sherman. “But I began to question my sphere of influence. While I could shape the learning environment in my school, I worried about what happened when the kids left. So, I began to wonder how I could shape a district learning environment where high achievement was assured no matter where a child attended.”

I am humbled and grateful to receive this award named in [Dorothy Height's] honor. My NYU degree is the one dearest to my heart, for while I always knew education was life-altering, NYU proved it.

Deborah Jewell-Sherman, EdD (BS ’76)

In 1990, Jewell-Sherman enrolled in the Urban Superintendents Program at Harvard that sought to prepare professionals, particularly women, to work as system level leaders in urban school systems – a daunting decision for a mid-career professional, but an impactful 14 months of deep learning.

After a residency and employment in Virginia Beach while completing her doctoral degree in abstentia at Harvard, Jewell-Sherman became an associate superintendent in Richmond Public Schools in 1995, later becoming the superintendent in 2002. During the next six years, she experienced high highs and low lows –  including butting heads mightily with then-Mayor Douglas Wilder – as she built one of the fastest-improving urban districts in the nation.

In 2008, Harvard's Dean Kathleen McCartney recruited Jewell-Sherman back to her alma mater as co-director of the very program she had completed. She also helped design and implement the Doctorate of Education Leadership Program (EdLD), for which she is a core faculty member and current co-director. She also was named the first woman professor of practice in the history of HGSE.

“Dorothy Height, a beacon for women and a strong proponent of education, is someone I hold in the highest esteem,” says Jewell-Sherman. “I am humbled and grateful to receive this award named in her honor. My NYU degree is the one dearest to my heart, for while I always knew education was life-altering, NYU proved it. I pray that I have been worthy of that scholarship and that I have modeled the grace I was given in working with my many, many students, whom I call my cherubs.”

In addition to this award, Jewell-Sherman previously was named the Virginia Superintendent of the Year in 2009 and received the Dr. Effie Jones Humanitarian Award in 2013, both from AASA, the School Superintendents Association. Additionally in 2015, she was recognized for her teaching excellence with the Morningstar Family Award and the LGBTQIA+ Faculty Award in 2018 from HGSE.