For Amanda Finigan, Ellis’ new Upper School Division Head, girls’ education is in her blood. In eighth grade, she chose to attend St. Joseph’s High School, an all-girls school in Brooklyn, New York, after being enchanted by the idea of learning and earning her diploma alongside a cohort of strong, confident young women. Now, she’s at the helm of grades 9 through 12 at Ellis, leading the next generation of young women to be confident contributors and changemakers. A recent transplant from Brooklyn, Ms. Finigan joins the Ellis community from the Berkeley Carroll School where she served as Dean of Student Life.
Head of Upper School
BA Economics, St. Francis College; MST Secondary Education with a concentration in Mathematics, Pace University
How did you get into education? I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was six years old. My first teacher, Ms. Dawes, had a huge influence on me. I would come home and pretend to be her while I played school with my sister. When I went to high school, I had an incredible math teacher who inspired me to go into mathematics. To me, math is like a puzzle and it brings me joy to solve problems. Math teaches you to stick with challenges even when they’re tough and to learn to figure things out for yourself.
What do you think are the advantages to an all-girls environment? As an alumna of an all-girls school, I know firsthand how powerful such an education is as it's where I learned how to be a leader and where I found my voice. I chose to go to an all-girls school, St. Joseph High School in Brooklyn, New York, in ninth grade. I was extremely shy, but when I went to tour the school, I saw other students who were confident and outgoing. I knew I wanted to go into mathematics, but sometimes I would be terrified to raise my hand and give the wrong answer in class. So when I went to St. Joseph’s, I challenged myself to speak up and use my voice. I joined the speech team in ninth grade and came in last place in every competition except for the final one. I ended up going to the state competition and stuck with the team through the next four years.
How did you know Ellis was a good fit for you? Everyone I met during the interview process was really authentic and genuine. I could tell they believed in and loved being at Ellis. When I came to campus for the first time and met the students, I knew it was the place for me. Their questions were so thoughtful and thought-provoking. I could tell that they really cared about their School. I thought to myself, “I need to know more of these girls.”
Why do you think all-girls education is important? A few years ago, I started doing research on differential attention and specifically looking at female students in STEM. I began to reflect on my own experiences and realized I wanted to do more for girls’ education. I truly believe that women gain more confidence and self-esteem in a setting like Ellis. At girls’ schools, the learning environment is conducive to making mistakes and learning from them. We see teachers supporting students in that vulnerability of honoring the mistake, acknowledging it, and using it as a learning opportunity.
How would you describe yourself in three words? Humorous. Analytical. Observant.
What woman inspires you and why? My grandmother, Lucille Viola Freeman Finigan. She was an amazing matriarch—this tiny person with a huge personality. She had eight grandchildren, but she made every one of us feel like her number one. She instilled in us the value of reading, education, and being appreciative of all cultures and communities.
What do you do for fun? I love to cook and watch cooking shows. Anything from Guy’s Grocery Games to Beat Bobby Flay. I also enjoy spending time with my family: my husband, Frank, my two sons, Aaron (13) and Jacob (11), and my four sisters. We also have a dog, a boxer named Duke.
At Ellis, we take snack very seriously. What’s your favorite snack? Anything chocolate. I definitely have a sweet tooth.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role? Meeting the people! I'm so excited to meet everyone and get to know the students.