Harper ISD hires district veteran as superintendent
Harper Independent School District recently promoted a familiar face to superintendent.
Bonnie Stewart, the former principal at Harper High School, will now be head of the district after Chris Stevenson retired last spring.
“I’m just very blessed and excited to serve the community of Harper and the school district in this role,” Stewart said.
The new superintendent has been with Harper since 1998. She began as a sixth grade teacher.
“I graduated from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in December of 1997 and it’s real hard to find a teaching job in December,” Stewart said. “Harper happened to have a real big sixth-grade class that year, and so they decided to split it three ways.”
She taught for about six years before transitioning into the district testing coordinator position. After roughly 14 years there, she moved into the principal realm.
“I started as an assistant principal, then moved to middle school principal and then high school principal,” she said.
While moving up in the ranks, she was being molded into a superintendent by Stevenson.
“When he moved up to the superintendent position, I had already gotten my superintendent certification,” Stewart said. “So, for the last several years, he was kind of grooming me and training me, just in case that was the direction the board wanted to go.”
Stewart said she’s seen a lot of growth in the “Longhorn Family” during here time with the district.
“It has definitely changed,” Stewart said. “When I started, we had about 260 students from Pre-K-12. Now, we’re pushing 600.”
Even with the growth, Stewart said the area still has the tight-knit, small-town feel. Having grown up in the two small towns of Ozona and Leakey, that’s just how she likes it.
“I’m a country girl, so it just fits me,” she said.
Stewart was offered the position in the spring of 2020, just when schools began closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The main thing that was going through my mind was, ‘What in the world are we going to do with all the COVID craziness?’” she said.
Her primary focus of how to implement new regulations and changes during this new normal was sometimes disrupted with all of the regular jobs of a superintendent, such as working on budgets. However, she’s grateful to her administrative team for their help in creating what she called an effective plan.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well it has gone,” Stewart said. “We all sat down early in the summer and started our plan. Like all plans, they’re subject to change, but we felt like we came up with what we thought was the best that we could do for our students and our community.”
Classes in Harper ISD began Aug. 19. Stewart said some students have been sent home due to COVID-19 symptoms, but so far, none of tested positive.
One primary goal of Stewart’s is to bring Harper ISD up from a B to an A score on the Texas Education Agency’s Accountability Rating as soon as possible.
The district was given a B score in 2019. Stewart said she felt like they were on track for an A in 2020, but accountability grades have been paused due to COVID-19.
Still, she’s confident the school will reach that mark when the grading system is resumed.
“Our middle school earned Blue Ribbon School several years ago, and we’ve been exemplary on the old accountability system,” Stewart said.
One way she plans to reach this, and to reach the College Career and Military Readiness portion of the accountability rating, is by improving SAT and ACT test scores.
“In the last year, we’ve implemented an SAT/ACT prep class for our high school kids, so I’m very excited to see how that turns around those scores,” she said.
On the financial side, Stewart wanted to continue the strategy of both Stevenson and his predecessor, Peri Whitten.
“At the school, we’ve never had a bond election and all of our facilities are paid for,” Stewart said. “Jim Ward, way back in the ’90s, had the philosophy of ‘pay as you go.’ That’s what they’ve done and I really hope to continue that.”
Stewart said she has an open-door policy. Anyone who has questions or concerns about the district are welcome to come in and chat with her.