Ormond Beach Elementary underwent a couple of administrative changes this week as beloved principal Tucker Harris was transferred mid-year to another school in Daytona Beach in need of help.
On Friday, Feb. 16, Harris called a staff meeting to inform that he would immediately be moving on to Palm Terrace Elementary at the school district's request. Some parents voiced concerns about his move, especially so close to testing, but ultimately, Harris started his new job on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
“It’s kind of bittersweet any time you leave a school but that’s the world in which principals live," Harris said. "The job is to go in and build a culture where teachers are supported, parents feel welcomed and students are learning, and just do the best you can there.”
Kristin Anthony, a parent, said the news came as a surprise, and that her third-grader cried when he heard Harris would no longer be the principal at OBE. In a letter she and her husband wrote to Volusia County School Superintendent Tom Russell, they said their son had been experiencing anxiety over state testing and that Harris has been a "calming and reassuring influence for him."
“He really gets the kids involved and it’s really going to be devastating because he’s such a huge part of their everyday life," Anthony said.
She and other parents were hoping the school district would wait until the end of the school year to give the students some time to adjust to the idea of having a new principal. Though that did not happen, Russell said a great deal of thought went into the move and the timing of it.
“He’s done such a wonderful job at Ormond Beach Elementary but I had to do an intervention now, and it’s what we did," Russell said.
Palm Terrace Elementary is currently in corrective action, Russell said, and if the school receives another D or F grade, the state will intervene. The decision to transfer Harris to that school was not random. Russell said it was all about putting the right pieces in place for that school and its students.
Russell has also made the unusual decision to let OBE teachers, district staff and a few members of the Ormond community interview the school's next principal. He also placed Susan Persis, retired Pine Trail Elementary principal and wife to former Ormond Beach mayor and current school board member Carl Persis, as the substitute principal for OBE until the end of the year because she knows the community well.
“I know that’s not enough for them and I understand that—that’s how loved [Harris] is, and he’s an effective principal,” Russell said.
Ormond Beach Police Chief Jesse Godfrey said they hate to see Harris go, but that he hopes the next principal will continue with the
Shifters club, which Harris started as an incentive to get kids to ride their bikes to school. Harris rode along with them each time.
Godfrey said OBPD didn't have a relationship with OBE before Harris.
“He totally helped us," Godfrey said. "If anything we owe him something.”
The Shifters club is something Harris said parents should not be worried about disappearing. A teacher will be taking over until the end of the school year, and he laughed as he said knowledge of riding a bike will probably be an interview question for the next principal. He completed his last ride on Friday, Feb. 16.
For Persis, the whole opportunity feels like things have gone full circle. Before she retired from Pine Trail in August 2015, Harris had been her assistant principal. She said her life revolves around education, and she's excited for the opportunity to server students, teachers and parents once again.
Because of how well OBE was running under Harris, she said she just plans to continue what he was doing without changing anything. If any parent has a concern, she said she has an open door policy and that she'd be happy to talk with them.
“I’m not a new principal," Persis said. "I’m not an assistant principal trying to move up the ladder. I’m there solely to help everybody and that is the best feeling.”
Harris said OBE was the city's best kept secret long before he got there. The teaching aspect was always there — he just helped the students see they could learn. Now that they see that in themselves, Harris said, he's confident that culture will continue.
“This place is dynamic in many ways — way bigger than Tucker Harris, and I guess it was the place to be before me and it’ll be the place to be long after I’m gone," Harris said.