Meet Mrs. Gardner


This school year at Derry Area High School, we are honored to have Mrs. Gardner come back as the new head principal. If you are like me, you love meeting new people and getting to know them. I knew I wanted to get to know her and dig deep into her mindset on leadership, teaching, counseling, COVID-19, and more. 

I asked Mrs. Gardner a series of deep to playful questions to get a base ground of who she is and how she went through major changes. Here is how it went: 

Me: What is your goal for the kids at Derry Area?

Mrs. Gardner: We want to make sure all of the students leaving here live successful lives, moving into any pathway, outside of the district.

Me: When is your birthday?

Her: My birthday is June 24th, and I’m cancer.

Me: What did your school life look like?

Her: I grew up in Hempfield, and I went my entire K-12 there. I graduated from Hempfield and got my bachelor’s degree in elementary education from California University which is now West Penn University. I became certified as a teacher K-6 and I got my master’s degree from Slippery Rock University for school counseling, grades K-12. I then got my administrative papers at IUP, also in K-12. 

Me: Why did you become a principal?

Her: I started teaching because of my passion for education in general. I was seeing so many social and emotional deficits in kids that couldn’t be repaired by only teachers. I like helping facilitate a community atmosphere… I can’t imagine doing anything else. We’re also creating leaders in students. 

Me: How tall are you?

Her: I’m 6’1 but my husband likes to tell me I’m really not and I portray my “roster height.” My family is like the “land of the living giants!” 

Me: If you could have any other job what would it be?

Her: When I started in college I was actually pre-med for 2 years. If I had to choose another field I would be a PA (physician’s assistant).

Me: If you and your husband switched jobs (He is a state trooper), do you think he could handle high school and could you handle his position?

Her: If he switched to my job.. he would be fired. [However,] if I was a trooper, I would handle myself differently than other troopers. I’m very empathetic so if I have to go to a call and someone is sharing a sad story, I’m gonna be emotionally moved. In their field, being emotional in those’s almost not safe.

Me: Do you think you could beat any teacher in a 1v1 basketball game, and if so, who?

Her: Yes. Mr. Mylant. 

Me: Do you think cats or dogs are better?

Her: I preferred dogs. I have an English chocolate lab. He is very large and lazy, but so incredibly friendly. I am also allergic to cats so that question is pretty easy for me.

Me: Do you think you would call yourself an empowered woman?

Her: Yes. I think it’s important for females to be seen in leadership positions and that there is a population that represents them, but in a way that women want to be represented. I think that it’s important to provide girls with role models and to know there’s more in the world out there for them. They don’t have to be stuck in a “woman’s field.” You should figure out who you are, and why you are the way you are, and then be proud of that. 

Me: Anything else you’d like to say?

Her: I believe all of the teachers and everyone who works here, as well as Mr. Arone, all of us are leaders.

After speaking with Mrs. Gardner, a few things stood out to me.

First, although she is a very confident female leader, she does not see herself as the sole leader of the school. As a student, you want to feel heard and taken care of. During our conversation, she expressed numerous times how she loves talking to students about how to create change and how she enjoys positive change, using her own personal experiences about change and how they affected her career. I think that the main goal for us as students is to realize that right now, we have one opportunity to somewhat control what our future could look like and high school is that opportunity.

Along with the theme of positivity, I loved hearing from her about how the concept of women being represented in a positive way could show other young girls just how important they truly are. As girls, we should stand up for each other, show respect and get respect back. It’s earned, not given. As young women, we need to show that we can lead and we can do anything we put our minds to, like even being a principal.

Lastly, I loved how, even though I was giving the interview, we had more of a discussion than a Q&A. She listened to me and we shared laughs together. When I asked her about her educational career, we talked about how big Hempfield was and still is. When we talked about her husband’s career as a cop, we both shared a laugh and agreed that if a child or an animal were involved, we’d have to hide.. and probably cry in the car. 

We need someone who listens and takes action, no matter how big or small the issue is and based on this interview, I can confidently say that Mrs.Gardner can provide us with that and even more. 

Welcome, Mrs. Gardner!