Alan Harris says he is an educator, a psychologist, a policeman and a big brother.
This summer, J.L. Long Middle School’s principal was rewarded for doing these jobs well.
Harris, a 54-year-old neighborhood resident, was one of five principals throughout the country – and the only educator in Texas – to receive the Patrick Francis Daly Memorial Award, given by Yale University’s Child Study Center for outstanding leadership and commitment to children.
“This was a complete shock to me. I gave up the pursuit of fame and fortune many years ago,” Harris says. “I could hardly speak when they gave me the award.”
“I may not be the most deserving candidate, but I’m the most proud.”
The award is given to principals who work in schools that follow the Comer model of education created at Yale, a system that strives to reduce bureaucracy and encourages site-based management of schools. All DISD schools try to follow this model, Harris says. It is often referred to as school-centered education.
Comer schools focus on whole-child development and seek parent and community participation, which is what educators should do, Harris says.
“There are kids at Long who are not successful at school, but it’s not an academic problem,” Harris says. “It’s an economic problem or a social problem or a family problem. It’s the whole child you get, so it’s the whole child you should deal with.
“We need to promote life-long learning and be aware of the need to promote mental health. You pay for a child to develop and grow now into a taxpayer, or you pay later and have to remove a kid to Huntsville.”
Harris knows first-hand about children who turn to crime.
From 1967 to 1976, he was a counselor and caseworker for the juvenile court system in his hometown of Phoenix, Ariz.
He also served four years as a consultant to the U.S. Office of Education’s Drug and Delinquency Prevention Program.
Before coming to the courts, he was a science teacher at the junior high and high school levels.
Harris combined his experiences as a teacher and probation officer in 1976, when he helped create Bostrum Alternative School in Phoenix, a high school for troubled adolescents.
In 1978, he was hired by DISD to help develop Letot Academy, a similar school for middle school students.
Harris came to Long in Fall 1991, when the Comer model was implemented at the school.
Since Harris took the reigns at Long, computers have become everyday teaching tools. A community health center is located on campus. More extra-curricular activities have been established, including a spirit club, ballet folklorico, and a seventh grade athletics program.
Also, parent education programs are in place, more attention is paid to fine arts, and incentives have been created for student and teacher attendance.
Harris credits Long’s faculty and our community for these achievements. He says Long’s teachers have a strong commitment to middle school students, who are experiencing a difficult age.
“It’s an age everyone would like to skip, including the students,” Harris says. “The scary thing is that kids can make decisions at this age that affect the remainder of their lives.”
Harris’ family knows the ups and downs of teaching. His wife, Loie, is assistant principal at Grady H. Spruce High School. His twin daughters are teachers, Traci at S.S. Conner Elementary and Terri at W.W. Samuell High School.
Harris works in education, he says, for his family.
“I’m selfish,” Harris says. “I want my children to live in a world with order, no chaos; where people care about each other.”
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