Jay principal named 2010 Innovator of the Year

September 3, 2010

It was a total surprise for Jay High School Principal Robert Harris when his name was announced as the recipient of the 2010 Innovator of the Year award in front of his peers during the first all-campus principals' meeting of the year.

"At first, I thought they were talking about someone else," he said. "What an honor to receive this special award."

Harris was presented the Ed Rawlinson Innovator of the Year for establishing the Jay High School Freshman Center, which focuses on helping first-time Jay ninth graders be successful.

The Innovator of the Year award is administered annually by the Northside Education Foundation (NEF) to one (of 13,000) of NISD's employees whose creative idea is successfully implemented and can be easily adopted by other schools or for wider use. Nominations are submitted from throughout the District, and a committee from NEF selects from those nominations.

The idea of the Jay Freshman Center was in response to improving the high school completion and retention rate. Harris focused on recruiting experienced teachers who designed high quality lessons, scheduled conferences regularly with parents, and established interventions to address problems with attendance, homework, and motivation, as well as teen social and emotional issues. He also created a common lunch schedule where mandatory tutoring results in no minute at school being wasted, and housed all incoming ninth graders together in the same building wing. Students are encouraged to become active in the life of the school through involvement in clubs and activities.

As a result of Harris's reforms, Jay High School's ninth grade attendance rates improved by eight percent the first year, and 97 percent were promoted to tenth grade. Harris expects it will take three years to adequately measure its success, but his positive attitude toward ensuring high school student success is already paying off for this 2010 Innovator of the Year.

The award is typically presented at the annual Northside Administrator Institute in July, but Harris was unable to attend because he was selected to attend in-service training at Harvard University to study school improvement. As part of the award, Harris received a $250 grant from NEF, a special plaque with his name on it, and an Innovator-logo shirt, all presented by former Supt. Ed Rawlinson, for whom the award was named. In addition, Evelyn Thomas, NEF Board member, was involved in the presentation.