Corey Harris, newly-hired principal of Patrick Henry High School, 4320 Newton Ave. N., said he heard about Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) from a reliable source: Carol Johnson, his former boss in Memphis, Tenn., and past MPS Superintendent.
“She spoke fondly of Minneapolis and I decided to check it out,” Harris said, adding that so far, he is very impressed with the school. “Patrick Henry has a very stable staff, an empowered staff, that is really good to work with. In my experience that’s a little uncommon.”
Harris was born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., and graduated from high school in 1992. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in English and education from Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., and a Master of Science degree in leadership and policy studies from the University of Memphis. He taught English in a middle school and also taught three years in an alternative school in Memphis; he said he has five years of classroom experience.
“My plan was always to go into administration,” Harris said. “That’s where I thought I could have a greater impact. I believe, however, that you should go into the classroom before becoming an administrator.”
In 2001, Harris was hired as an assistant principal at a K-8 college prep school in Memphis. Three years later, he was promoted to principal and put in charge of a middle school in its first year of being “fresh started,” with a new staff, new curriculum and new administrators. “The school was facing state takeover,” he said. “It was the first wave of fresh starting. We experienced a lot of success; it was very positive. In fact, our school’s accomplishments were featured on NBC Nightly News.”
Harris was principal of PreEminent Charter School in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the 2006-2007 school year, and principal of John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City, Okla., for the 2008-2009 school year.
“I jumped at the chance to get back to my home state, but after working for three superintendents in 14 months, decided I was not making the type of progress I had hoped for.”
John Marshall is an inner city school, he said, with enrollment slightly less than Patrick Henry; Marshall, a grade 6-12 school, had 800 students. Henry has about 1,200 students.
“When people look at my resume, they might wonder about all the movement. It’s been about getting a wider array of experience. I’m happy to be here for a while. My ultimate goal is to be a superintendent someday,” he said.
MPS Associate Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a press release that Harris “has been recognized for his ability to quickly work with staff to build relationships and community in order to raise student achievement. He has very strong skills as an instructional leader, empowers students to take responsibility for their own learning and inspires teachers to believe in every child’s potential.”
Harris said he was working on a Doctor of Education degree in leadership and organizational policy from the University of Memphis. “I completed all but my dissertation; [it’s been that way] for seven years. Now I’m facing a time dilemma; it looks like I will have to transfer to the University of Minnesota, where I may lose several credit hours.”
Harris said he is living in downtown Minneapolis while he looks for a house in North Minneapolis. He is divorced and has an 11-year old daughter who lives in Memphis.
“I am the first in my family, and the first generation, to go to college,” Harris said. “When I was in high school I came to the realization that I had a lot to offer, and I was lucky enough to find a mentor, a woman named Ruth Tibbs, who more or less made me go to college. Sadly, she passed away the August before I started school.
What does he have to offer? “I am the youngest of five brothers,” Harris added. “All of my brothers have been incarcerated.”
He said they had been charged with crimes such as auto theft, not violent crimes, but had received fairly long sentences. “I can share that with my students at Patrick Henry. Many of them can relate to it. They’ve also likely been in situations where people had minimum expectations of them for their post-secondary education.
“We have students in all of our schools with a ton of potential that is not being tapped for many reasons. I was a 3.9 grade point student all the way through; we have students at our school today who can achieve that as well. In my case, my brothers’ mistakes were enough for me to say, ˜I’m not going down that same path.’”
Although Patrick Henry has long had an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, Harris said he has no experience with the program. “I’ve mostly been doing school reform. That’s another thing that drew me to Henry, to get some new experience.”
He said his first day on the job was June 4, and he has spent the summer “trying to get an accurate picture of where Patrick Henry is today. I’ve been meeting with various stakeholders and people at the central office.”
“I’ve attended several churches,” he added. “I’ve been walking around the neighborhood, but I haven’t met with the neighborhood organizations yet. We’re trying to plan an open house.”
He added that so far in his career, “I’ve transitioned into a few cities. People here have been very friendly. I’m looking forward to the first day of school.”
Harris’ predecessor, Gary Kociemba, retired in the middle of the 2008-2009 school year. Robert McCauley served as interim principal before Harris was hired.
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