Dondre Harris might become a school superintendent someday, but he has some unfinished business to attend to first.
“I like being a principal,” he said. “I also like to figure things out, and I haven’t figured it all out yet. If I do, maybe I’ll go on to something else.”
Harris sowed the seeds for that “something else” when he graduated from the online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, Superintendency program at Arkansas State University in 2015.
“The Ed.S. prepared me well to become a superintendent — if I ever decide to take that step,” he said. “I received very good value from the program.”
Now in his third year as principal at Robert L. Davis Elementary School in Alexander, Arkansas, Harris chose A-State for its affordable tuition and quality education.
“When I came to the Bryant Public School District, A-State was offering discounts on the Ed.S. programs,” he said. “It wasn’t the only factor in me getting started, but it played a part in it. Arkansas State is a respected university.”
The flexibility of the online format was also key to Harris’ return to higher education. He and his wife, Latoria, have one son, Dondre Jr. (7), and he had plenty on his plate when he was in the program more than five years ago.
“If the Ed.S. program wasn’t online, I probably wouldn’t have been able to complete it,” he said. “Even with coaching, teaching and being a dad, it all rolled in together. The online format was very beneficial.”
Swinging for the Fences
Harris moved across the country growing up, living in Missouri, California, Nevada and then back in Eudora, Arkansas.
His father, Donald, was the athletic director and head football coach at Eudora High School, where Harris played baseball, basketball and football and ran track.
“It was a small school, so everyone did everything,” he said. “I have also coached a variety of sports — baseball, basketball, football, track and wrestling. I also had a chance to coach with my dad for two years.”
The love of sports never waned for Harris, who played baseball at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2005. He added a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from Grand Canyon University three years later.
“There are quite a few educators in my family,” he said. “I have a great uncle who received his doctoral degree and was a principal in Ashdown, Arkansas, who has a school named after him. That was huge for me. I never intended to jump into administration when I did. Administration picked me.”
Harris came to the Bryant Public School District as a teacher and coach in 2012. He moved up to assistant principal four years later, having already graduated from the online Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, Superintendency program.
“I didn’t have a plan to get the Ed.S. until I came here to my district,” he said. “My wife is very influential to me about personal and professional growth. Now, she says, ‘Have you applied for your Ed.D. yet? Where are you going to go?'”
ELAD 7013: School Personnel Administration was Harris’ favorite course in the education specialist program curriculum.
“The course correlates with going from a principal to a superintendent,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what field you are in or what level you are on; you must clearly explain expectations.
“The retention and promotion process also plays a role in this course, which is something that I deal with frequently. You have to take care of your people. The information in the program has been applicable to my job as principal.”
Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk
Leveraging his previous experience as a coach, Harris started a nonprofit in 2015, giving motivational speeches and mentoring youth through seminars and athletic camps.
“As a principal, you must talk to your staff and get them pumped up. People would ask me to speak at events,” Harris said. “I wish I could do more of it.”
For Harris, who also completed a master’s degree program online, the key to success with distance learning is, much like it is as a principal — to make the best use of every minute of the day.
“You must plan out your time in the program,” he said. “You can complete all tasks if the planning is right.”
Harris is glad that he already has the Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, Superintendency under his belt. He believes it helped him hit the ground running when he stepped into administration.
“I always wanted to obtain my doctoral degree,” he said of his intention to eventually earn an Ed.D. “Getting the Ed.S. was a step in that direction. It was a good experience.”