Last week, Durham Public Schools Superintendent Ann Denlinger announced her retirement and the Durham Board of Education selected Harris, Denlinger's right-hand man, to replace her. Harris will officially take over the top job on July 1.
Harris said he believes one of his strongest qualities is leadership, and he knows it will be tested when he takes his seat among Durham's contentious school board.
"It's certainly something on my mind, something I'm concerned about," said Harris, a Franklin County native who graduated from N.C. State University.
In recent months and years, some board meetings have gotten out of control.
In April, three people were arrested during a meeting while protesting new rules that limit the timeframe for open public comments as well as the number of agenda items the public can comment on. All three were later found not guilty on charges ranging from trespassing to inciting a riot.
In February, two board members walked out of a meeting when the board was setting rules for the public comment policy.
Harris said such incidents must stop.
"I think we owe that to our students. Many students watch those meetings," Harris said. "I'm asking the community to come together to work on the issue as a community and not do the pointing the finger, blaming one person or another or someone else."
While he does not have any concrete plans to attack the school board issue, Harris said he believes his strong relationship with board members and parents will go a long way in repairing the damage.
He added he wants to improve the system's image, from the boardroom to the classroom.
He said he wants to train teachers to identify potential problems and deal with them before they escalate. He also hopes to get parents more involved, and he is working on plans to improve academic achievement.
Harris was the Franklin County superintendent for four years. During that time, he closed the achievement gap by 15 percent.
"I see great things happening for the Durham Public Schools," Harris said. "I'll just simply ask we all come together and we focus on what's good for the children and do it in a matter that our children will be proud of how we did it."
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