By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Following a rocky spring, Tupelo High School has a new leader.
Interim Superintendent David Meadows recommended Joyner Elementary Principal Jason Harris for the position Tuesday.
“Our community knows him as a highly successful elementary principal, but the majority of his experience has been at the secondary level,” said Meadows as he made his recommendation to the school board, which approved Harris unanimously.
Harris will succeed Lee Stratton, who was reassigned to a district administrative post after serving a year as THS principal.
A Virginia native, the 36-year-old Harris taught and served in administrative positions in Norfolk, Va., Public Schools before becoming an assistant principal at Columbus High School. All of those schools averaged between 1,400 and 1,800 students. Tupelo High School has about 2,000 students.
“Before Tupelo, my whole career was in secondary education,” Harris said.
In his first Tupelo position, Harris served as an assistant principal at the then fourth through sixth grade Lawndale Elementary for three years before taking over the kindergarten through second grade Joyner Elementary in January 2010.
School board President Amy Heyer named instructional leadership and existing relationships with Tupelo students and families as key strengths for Harris and Evet Topp, who was named Tupelo High School associate principal Tuesday.
Roughly a third of Tupelo High School freshman and sophomore students already know Harris from their time at Lawndale Elementary. Topp has served as the THS Career Center director for the past three years and will continue in that role in addition to being the second-in-command
at the high school.
“I think we’re going to have such strong instructional leadership with Jason and Evet,” Heyer said. “I think our students will really benefit from that.”
Harris will split his time between Joyner and THS this week before he officially becomes THS principal Friday.
“Being a high school principal is not just a job, it’s a passion,” Harris said.
His first goal is to meet with all 100-plus THS teachers individually before school starts Aug. 4, if their schedules permit.
“I was able to do it at Joyner – which had 54 teachers – in two and a half weeks,” Harris said.
Harris said he’s not intimidated by Tupelo High School’s size. He graduated from a high school that was similar in size, and the middle and high schools he’s served as a teacher, coach and administrator were all well over 1,000 students.
“School is school, and we have to have high expectations for all students,” Harris said.
Likewise, he’s not fretting over the turmoil that came in the spring when word came that Stratton would be replaced as Tupelo High School principal. Student and community protests over the change proceeded the resignation of Superintendent Randy Shaver. Chris Barnes, a North Carolina principal who was initially named THS principal, decided not to take the position in the aftermath.
“It was a different time; it’s all in the past,” Harris said. “We’re moving forward.”
Harris is no stranger to Tupelo High School parent Donnie Peterson, who had a child at Lawndale Elementary when Harris was an assistant principal at that school.
“I think he’s a very good man,” Peterson said. “I think he’s going to be a great asset to Tupelo High School.”
Harris combined high expectations for academics with high expectations for discipline, Peterson said.
“He’s one of the most approachable guys I’ve ever met,” but he doesn’t put up with misbehavior, Peterson said.
Harris was a positive leader at Joyner Elementary School, said Julia Gaines, whose daughter just completed second grade at the school.
“The teachers love him and the children love him,” Gaines said. “I hope the community is excited about him. … Once they get to know him, they’re going to really like him.”