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Gene Harris

School superintendent Gene T. Harris was born in Columbus, Ohio on April 4, 1953 to Thelma Hunt and William Thomas, Sr. Harris graduated from Linden McKinley High School in Columbus, Ohio in 1971. After attending one year at Ohio State University, Harris transferred to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and obtained her B.A. degree in English in 1975. She then returned to Ohio State University and graduated with her M.A. degree in educational administration in 1979. Harris was then hired as an English teacher for the Columbus City Schools. In 1980, she was appointed assistant principal. Six years later, Harris was named principal in the Columbus City Schools district. She was appointed supervisor of principals for the Columbus City Schools before being hired as an assistant superintendent of curriculum. Two years later, Harris enrolled in Ohio University’s doctoral program, where she obtained her Ph.D. degree in education in 1999. Harris then became the 19th superintendent of the Columbus City Schools (CCS) in 2001, Ohio’s largest district, serving more than 51,000 students in 118 schools, and over 7,700 employees.

Under her tenure as superintendent, U.S. News and World Report ranked 12 of the district’s high schools among the nation’s best in their 2010 America’s Best High Schools report; one high school receiving the “silver” award designation and 11 others receiving a “Bronze” designation.

Harris has earned numerous accolades throughout her career. The Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) named her its 2012 Ohio Superintendent of the Year. She was the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree in community leadership from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. Harris has been twice awarded the Ingram Award for outstanding leadership as a principal, and in 1991, she was named a YWCA Woman of Achievement. Additionally, Harris received the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity African American Role Model Award and the Who’s Who in Black Columbus Master Achiever in Education Award. Other notable honors Harris has received include: the Columbus Metropolitan Area Community Action Organization (CMACAO) Community Impact Award, the Cavaliers Club Award for Outstanding Accomplishments, and the National Council of 100 Black Women-Columbus Chapter Personal Achievement and Devoted Service Award. She is also the recipient of the University Council for Educational Administration Excellence in Educational Leadership Award. Harris has received the Martin Luther King, Jr., Dreamer Award in 2004, the Champion of Children, the Children’s Hunger Alliance Educator of the Year and the Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs Stellar Performer awards in 2005. Two years later, Harris was honored with the Donald and Gail Anderson Award from the Ohio State University College of Education and Ecology in 2007.

Harris is married to Stanley Eugene Harris and lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Gene T. Harris was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 5, 2012.

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Ohio University

The Ohio State University

University of Notre Dame

Linden-McKinley STEM Academy

Linmoor Middle School

Garfield Elementary School

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It Is What It Is.

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Ice Cream

Short Description

School superintendent Gene Harris (1953 - ) oversaw the Columbus City Schools from 2001 to 2013.


Columbus City Schools

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gene Harris' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gene Harris lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gene Harris describes her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gene Harris talks about her maternal family's move to Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gene Harris talks about her mother's upbringing and employment

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gene Harris describes her father's upbringing and employment

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gene Harris talks about her parents' values

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gene Harris describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gene Harris lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gene Harris describes her likeness to her parents

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Gene Harris describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Gene Harris describes the places she lived in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gene Harris describes her community in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gene Harris describes the sounds of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gene Harris recalls her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gene Harris talks about de facto segregation in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gene Harris remembers Garfield Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gene Harris describes her experiences during junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gene Harris remembers her high school librarian

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Gene Harris recalls the racial tension at Linden-McKinley High School in Columbus, Ohio, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gene Harris recalls the racial tension at Linden-McKinley High School in Columbus, Ohio, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gene Harris remembers the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gene Harris recalls her time at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gene Harris recalls transferring to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gene Harris describes her experiences at the University of Notre Dame

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gene Harris talks about her teaching career in the Columbus Public Schools

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Gene Harris remembers the desegregation of the Columbus Public Schools

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Gene Harris describes her graduate studies in education

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gene Harris recalls her assistant principalship of Central High School in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gene Harris talks about the federal government's role in education

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gene Harris describes her experiences as a high school principal, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gene Harris describes her experiences as a high school principal, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gene Harris talks about the importance of educational stability

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gene Harris recalls her work as supervisor of principals for the Columbus Public Schools

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gene Harris talks about charter schools

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gene Harris describes her Ph.D. dissertation

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Gene Harris talks about the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Gene Harris talks about the limitations of standardized testing

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gene Harris talks about income inequality in the public schools

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gene Harris talks about funding for education in the State of Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gene Harris describes the superintendent selection process in the Columbus Public Schools

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gene Harris describes her career as superintendent of the Columbus City Schools

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gene Harris recalls President Barack Obama's visit to Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gene Harris describes her trip to Ghana with students from the Columbus Africentric Early College

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Gene Harris talks about the success of the Columbus City Schools

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Gene Harris describes her initiatives in the Columbus City Schools

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Gene Harris talks about Back to School With The HistoryMakers

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Gene Harris describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Gene Harris reflects upon her career and legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Gene Harris talks about the use of technology in the Columbus City Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Gene Harris describes her family

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Gene Harris describes the Capital Improvements program

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Gene Harris talks about arts education in the Columbus City Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Gene Harris describes how she would like to be remembered







Gene Harris describes her experiences as a high school principal, pt. 1
Gene Harris describes her initiatives in the Columbus City Schools
Nineteen eighty-six [1986], after six years as assistant principal, you were promoted to principal.$$I was.$$Now, and did it come on time, or do you think it was late, or what do you, what do you think?$$Oh, I, I think it was right on time. And in fact, I was promoted right in the middle of a school year. And it gave me the opportunity to see the school in motion as the principal. I, I was thirty-two years old, 1986, soon to be thirty-three years old. And so a relatively young woman promoted to the high school principalship, I think that the organization may have seen themselves taking a risk, because at that time I was the youngest high school principal in Columbus City Schools [Columbus Public Schools; Columbus City Schools], and a female, and one of only, at that time, I think two or three females who were high school principals at that time. So, I don't think it was late at all. Some may think that it was early. I didn't think that it was early because I, I felt prepared for it, and it, it was a great opportunity.$$Okay. What school were you the principal?$$So initially, I was principal at Briggs High School [Columbus, Ohio] from 1986 to 1987, really just eighteen months. And then the central administration asked me to go back to Mifflin High School [Columbus, Ohio], where I had served as assistant principal, and serve as principal. And, and I served there until 1991, when the superintendent then at that time asked me to supervise schools. So, I'd still be there being a principal if he (laughter) hadn't asked me to supervise schools probably.$$Okay, all right. So, well, what was it like being a principal (unclear) in these schools?$$I had a lot of energies, and, and that's what it took to, to be a principal. It, it was, it was, it was, it was the job that, before this one, that I enjoyed the most, again, because I got to help establish policy. I wasn't far away from the students, which is one of the reasons I went into the business. So I got to continue to work with students and parents, but I also had one foot in the policy arena, you know, in talking with the superintendent and others. And, and I also had the opportunity to develop teachers. And, and so that was very satisfying to me.$$Okay. Did you have like a philosophy in terms of how you approached, you know, dealing with parents and that sort of thing at the schools?$$And, and it's the philosophy that I, I have today, and it's the same approach that I use with parents and, and students as, as well as other com- and teachers and other community members. It, it's a philosophy of inclusivity. You know, I want to hear what you have to say. I want to hear your opinions. I want to work with you. I'm not here to dictate. Look, I have no problems making decisions at all. But I do want to hear your ideas. I know that I don't have the only idea, so that's one. But the second thing is, is all children, all of, all of the time. In my mind, there wasn't a, a special set of kids that got all the good stuff, and these are the kids that are going to college, and these are the kids--. And I think it's, it's, it's, it's probably largely because of my background. As much as we could expose all of the students to, and as hard as we can push them all to do their best, I want them to get as much education as they can possibly stand. High school graduation was a minimum. And then we need to look forward past that to what we need to do next; how we need to prepare you so that you can take the next level of learning, whether that's gonna be a four-year baccalaureate de, degree, a two year technical degree, or you know, a certificate of some kind at a technical school, we need to make sure that you're prepared. So those are my two philosophies: I want to include folks in the decision making, and it's all kids all the time.$What are some of the new initiatives that you're launching here at Columbus City Schools?$$Some, some of the things that we have done and, and then some of the things that we're, we're doing going forward, we were one of the first schools--we were the first high school--we had the first high school in Franklin County [Ohio] that had a, launched an International Baccalaureate program. That's Columbus Alternative High School [Columbus, Ohio]. And I think we have graduated either three or four classes of students with this IB diploma, which gives our students access to universities globally. And so there are some universities across the globe who would be interested--not just in the United States, but across the globe--interested in our students because they've taken this very, very rigorous curriculum. We have other schools at lower levels who are interested in pursuing the IB curriculum also, International Baccalaureate curriculum. We had partnerships with virtually every college and university in this region and some outside of the region, including--well, the ones in the region would include Ohio State [The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio], Columbus State [Columbus State Community College, Columbus, Ohio], Capital [Capital University, Columbus, Ohio], Ohio Dominican [Ohio Dominican University, Columbus, Ohio]; all of those. But we also have relationships with colleges and universities outside of the region, like Ohio University [Athens, Ohio], Miami [Miami University, Oxford, Ohio], Ashland [Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio]. And what this allows us to do is give our students some additional opportunities for early college learning. We have, for example, partnership with DeVry [DeVry University, Ohio] where we have students who, at the end of their tenth grade, if they qualify, they can actually take their last remaining two years of, of colle- of high school education on DeVry's campus. Simultaneously, their fulfilling the requirements for an associate's degree while finishing their high school diploma. So, in June, we have about twenty-five students who will get their high school diploma and an associate's degree from DeVry. And so we, we think that's very powerful. We have several other partnerships like that, where our students are spending their senior year on college campuses, and they're earning, they're amassing a year's worth of, of college credit in our senior and sophomore program [Seniors to Sophomores]. And, and we are extremely proud of that. We have a middle school redesign, where we have redesigned our middle schools so that our, our students can be more successful. And we have a very strong focus on reading and math literacy across the curriculum in Columbus City Schools.$$Yeah, that's a question I--the science, you know, the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] (unclear)--$$Thank you. STEM, STEM is extremely important to us. We have a STEM, an entire STEM feeder, as we call it, elementary, middle, and high schools in a feeder pattern that are working on STEM. The Linden-McKinley feeder [Linden-McKinley STEM Academy, Columbus, Ohio] is a STEM feeder, and they're making great progress. We also are starting a STEM feeder with the West High School [Columbus, Ohio]--schools, that, that feed into West. And then our goal is to have one STEM feeder in every region. We also have STEM clubs. And one of the strongest ones we have is Northland High School [Columbus, Ohio]. In fact, we have the largest pre-collegiate STEM program. We believe--we've been told by the, by NSBE, the National Society of Black Engineers, that we have the largest pre-collegiate STEM program in the United States. And so, Northland High School, for example, just won three national recognitions at a STEM competition that we are very--every year they bring us back national recognitions. And this is an after school STEM club that is, is very large. They probably have fifty to sixty kids that are part of this club. And these students compete nationally, and, and they do very, very well.