LEADER SPOTLIGHT: Our First African American Male Principal ‘Proud to Serve in IMS Network’

Meet Durrell Harris, who is not only the newest principal in the IMS network, but also our first African American male school leader. Mr. Harris brings over 12 years of teaching and leadership experience to his role at St. Raymond of Penafort Catholic School. Previously, he was a teacher and athletic director at St. Malachy, then acting assistant principal for three IMS schools at the same time: St. Raymond, St. Barnabas, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Keep reading to find out why he joined IMS, some challenges he has faced, and what it’s like to lead the school his son attends.

What are your thoughts about being the first Black male principal at IMS?

“One reason I took this job is because I think it’s important for kids to see a leader who looks like them. Growing up, I don’t remember having many African American instructors, let alone administrators. I’m passionate about what I do, I love my job, and I’m proud to be the first Black male leader to serve in the IMS network.”

What is your favorite part about coming to work each day?

“Being around the kids, observing the teachers, being a support to the staff, giving it my all, and being the best leader I can possibly be.”

 What about IMS is different from other schools where you worked?

“The biggest difference is having God in the classroom. Being able to pray throughout the day and have a connection with God is wonderful. Also, having been in quite a few of the IMS schools, I’ve noticed that while each school is unique, each one has a family feeling.”

Why did you initially choose IMS?

“The charter school in Delaware where I was assistant principal for four and a half years closed. A friend of mine from college was teaching at St. Malachy. She told me how great the school was and how much I could impact the kids. They were hiring for a middle school science and social studies teacher, and that’s what I had taught, so I decided to give it a shot. “

What was the journey back to leadership like?

“Going back to teaching was tough. But God works in mysterious ways. When I was an assistant principal, I was solely in charge of discipline. When I came to St. Malachy, God put me back in the classroom to work on my instructional skills. Malachy Principal Steve Janczewski knew I wanted to get back into administration at some point and he mentored me in the key areas of lesson planning and instruction.”

What have been some of the challenges with the pandemic?

“The biggest obstacle has been virtual learning. We didn’t learn how to teach virtually in college, so it wasn’t easy. I try my best to be sympathetic with the teachers. For the students, having been away from school for so long, without the social and emotional learning, I knew there would be some behavioral issues at the start of the year. We had our challenges, but I am happy to say we have overcome them. Staffing has also been a challenge, but we now have a full staff! That is a major win for us and I cherish that.”

What is it like having your son, Gary, in Pre-K at St. Raymond?

“Of course, everyone else calls me Mr. Harris, but my son goes out of his way to call me Dad. He wants everyone to know. I don’t know how long that will last, but for now, I’m enjoying it!”

What do you do outside of work?

“I’m a huge sports guy. I love the Washington football team. I’m very competitive. I work out six days a week, running and lifting weights. I’m also pursuing my doctorate in District Educational Leadership, so I’m pretty busy outside of school.”

Any closing thoughts?

“I want everyone to know how much I believe in IMS, St. Raymond, and the Catholic faith. I’m focused on doing the best job I can do, day in and day out, not just for St. Raymond, but as a leader in the IMS network.”