Woodland Hills school board hires new superintendent
School supplies. Crowded buses. Underclassmen—nervous, but excited—as they get lost in the high school hallways for the first time. Happy tears as kindergarten students take on their first day of school.
“I want that type of atmosphere, I want fun,” said James P. Harris, who was sworn in as the new superintendent of Woodland Hills School District during a school board meeting Wednesday. “We need to have that. Not worrying about being Tased in the hallway, or being taken on a misdemeanor charge because you said a dirty word. That’s crazy. We need to get back to letting kids be kids.”
The board voted to hire Harris for a three-year term at an initial annual salary of $150,000, according to school board documents.
“I want to get it back to being a normal school,” Harris said following the board meeting, during which several residents continued to raise concerns about the presence of police officers in district schools. “Everyone who came here talked about police, not about academics, not about the football team, not about the band. We want to get back to that.”
Harris, 49, served as superintendent for the Daniel Boone Area School District in Berks County, Pennsylvania for the past three years. The district had 3,357 students during the 2017-18 school year, according to state Department of Education documents.
There were 3,529 students in the Woodland Hills School district last year.
Prior to the Daniel Boone district, Harris briefly worked with the Philadelphia School District as operations director. He left that position after nearly four months to take the superintendent job.
Daniel Boone Area school board documents from October 2017 show that Harris would have started a new two-year contract as district superintendent in November 2018 at a salary of $150,000. He was originally hired in October 2015 at a starting salary of $140,000, Daniel Boone Area school board documents show.
Harris grew up in Camden, New Jersey, and joined the Army after high school, according to a biography provided by Woodland Hills School Board President Jamie Glasser.
He served as a military policeman for six years, then went on to graduate from Seton Hall University in 1994 with a degree in behavioral science. After working as an investigator for the New Jersey Treasury Department and starting a career in marketing, he graduated with a master of business administration degree from Rosemont College in Pennsylvania in 2006, according to the biography.
He transitioned to a career in education, serving as chief operating officer for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation in Indiana and Dayton City Schools in Ohio, and as the business operations manager for Breakthrough Charter Network in Cleveland, the biography said.
Harris said that he is currently pursuing a doctorate in education leadership with the University of New England. He will live in Swissvale.
Harris will replace Alan Johnson, who submitted his resignation in February after serving the district for seven years.
Johnson was contracted to work with the district through the end of the 2020-21 school year, but told the Tribune-Review that he hopes his retirement will give the district a “fresh start.”
The district made national headlines last year following violent incidents between Churchill police officers assigned to the school, former high school Principal Kevin Murray and students.
A video from March 2015 shows offficer Steve Shaulis putting student Ahmad Williams Jr., then 15, in a headlock, slamming him to the ground and shocking him twice with a Taser.
In another video, from April 3 2017, Shaulis can be seen dragging a student, into the high school’s main office lobby before allegedly knocking out one of his teeth off camera.Shaulis was removed from the school but has not been charged criminally.
Those altercations resulted in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by five former students.
Murray first got in trouble after an audio recording surfaced of him in 2016 threatening a 14-year-old special education student. Murray could be heard on the recording saying, “I’ll punch you right in your face, dude,” and “I’ll knock your (expletive) teeth down your throat.”
Murray resigned as high school principal and head football coach in August 2017. He will be replaced this school year by Phillip K. Woods, who previously served as a principal in the Penn Hills and West Mifflin School Districts.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, email@example.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .