Paul Harris, who began his teaching career before World War II, celebrated his 100th birthday last week at C.C. Young in East Dallas. Over his long career, he was the principal at Lakewood Elementary, J.L. Long Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School.
Drafted to fight in World War II, he was stationed at a French hospital that served victims of the Battle of the Bulge. When he returned to the U.S., he continued his teaching career.
Harris led one group of Woodrow graduates for 11 of their 12 years of school in the neighborhood. He was at the helm of Lakewood Elementary 1952-1960, at Long 1960-1964 and at Woodrow 1964-1970.
In those days, he says, teachers and administrators learned their assignments just days before the school year started by reading the newspaper. Positions and schools were posted in the newspaper each August.
He ran Davy Crockett School in Old East Dallas when he met his wife, Clara, who was a speech therapist at the school. In those days, Harris says all teachers in Dallas ISD had to be single, so when they married she stayed home with their children. He then moved to Lakewood Elementary.
He says the stable community in Lakewood and support of the PTA made his job easier. “I told them they helped me run the school,” he says. “Even our failures were successful.”
He remembers vocational shops at Long, and though he claims he didn’t connect as well with high school students (he says it’s because he wasn’t a “sportsman”), he still has former students who reach out to him 50 years later.
Seeing young people develop through the years brought him great joy. He remembers watching a Lakewood student who couldn’t write legibly end up as valedictorian of Woodrow Wilson.
Being a high school principal during the 1960s wasn’t the easiest time to connect with teenagers, he says. He instituted a drug awareness program and established smoking courtyards at the school for what he called “veteran smokers” who weren’t about to quit. He also fought battles against skirt and hair lengths during his time at the high school.
He finished his career working in central administration and writing curriculum for Skyline High School’s vocational programs. He retired from Dallas ISD in 1981.
Following his career in education, he ran a framing business with his son for several years, framing everything from an African gourd to an armadillo that ended up as a gift for a congressman.
Harris and his wife raised four children, have eight grandchildren and just became great-grandparents. They love life at C.C. Young, where he joined the “Century Club” and celebrated his 100th birthday with more than 40 family members Jan. 29. He says he enjoys the food and takes his walker (cleverly named Paul-bearer) to the occasional drum circles at the facility. “Every day I wake up I am amazed,” he says with a chuckle.
Seeing former students go into education is one of his greatest accomplishments. He lost count after 30 former students went on to be teachers. “Being in the Lakewood area was special all the way through,” he says.
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