Don’t let this new principal’s youthful looks fool you
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series introducing Ramona Unified School District’s new leaders to the community.
By Pixie Sulser
With her youthful looks and bubbly personality, Joy Harris, new principal at James Dukes Elementary, may at first glance seem to be barely out of college, but Harris has logged 17 years in education as a teacher and as an administrator.
She replaces Pauline Leavitt, James Dukes principal for the past two years who now leads Olive Peirce Middle School.
Harris compares Ramona to the small, rural Minnesota community in which she grew up. She describes herself as a farm girl just like her mother and grandmother before her.
“I fell in love with the Ramona community while visiting friends who live in the area,” she said. “I like the country feel, and I know that Ramona is a small place that is going in great directions. James Dukes has a wonderful reputation, and I am humbled by the opportunity to work with the students, parents and staff of the JD community. I am extremely happy to be here.”
Harris earned her bachelor’s degree in special education and elementary education from the University of Wisconsin and followed up with a master’s degree in school administration and policy issues from John Hopkins University. She is working on her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of California, San Diego. Throughout her career Harris has taught middle school as well as grades 2, 4, and 6.
Her first foray into the realm of administration was as a special education administrator in the San Diego Unified School District. Harris’ interest in working with special education students began in third grade when she was a peer mentor in a classroom with cognitively disabled students. Throughout her growing up years, she continued to volunteer time in and out of a school setting working with cognitively disabled individuals.
As a special education administrator, Harris had the opportunity to research and develop programs to assist special education students, but budget cuts marked the end of that assignment.
It was then that she joined the high school world as an assistant principal for Mira Mesa High. Between her time at Mira Mesa High and her most recent job as assistant principal at Vista High School, Harris held two interim principal positions at elementary schools in San Diego County.
It was while at Vista, however, that she began considering her next move.
“I found myself yearning for a principalship, so I applied for the position here in Ramona,” she said. “It’s exciting to come back to elementary, which is where I started and where I feel most comfortable.”
She believes her middle and high school experiences will serve the college bound community of James Dukes well.
“I am most recently coming from a high school background, so I understand what it takes for a student to be successful not only at the middle school level, but also the high school level and beyond.”
She sees her strong foundation in child development and special education as a plus in understanding what it takes to serve the needs of children who are ”developing into the young people, young adults of tomorrow.”
“One of the best parts about what I am going into,” continued Harris, “is the parent support and involvement. I see it as a blessing to work with so many parents who are so dedicated to their student’s development. I know the value of what parents bring to our school community, and I want to continue with that.”
An active person her entire life beginning with involvement in cheerleading, softball and band as a youth, Harris stays what she terms “fully functional” and physically fit through yoga and running. She is also a self-proclaimed lover of information, describing the world as “a big open place that you need to explore and understand.”
Her love of knowledge plays a role in her educational philosophy that “students need to be innovative thinkers who can produce 21st century skills in the world.”
Harris said she is looking forward to becoming part of the “tight and productive team at James Dukes. I feel so lucky to be part of such a functional team. I see this as my time to learn from them and to continue the strong mission they have in place. I will add my own flavor, but I want to be a part of their team. I plan on collaborating very deeply not only with the staff but also with the parents. Without collaboration, nothing will happen.”
- Pauline Leavitt to replace Linda Solis as Ramona middle school principal
- Ramona trustees approve middle school librarian as assistant principal
- New principal sees middle school as a crossroads for students
- New principal continues family’s tradition in education
- New principal joins oldest elementary school with enthusiasm
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