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Inglewood Schools Chief Steps Down After 2 Years

Education: James Harris resigns to return to his native Michigan as head of a suburban district.

July 18, 2002|JOE MATHEWS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After only two years in office, Inglewood's schools superintendent resigned Wednesday night to run a suburban district in his native Michigan.

James Harris said he will become superintendent of the school district in Taylor, a Detroit suburb, later this month.

Harris, 55, spent much of his early education career in Detroit. The move, he said, would put him closer to his beloved alma mater, the University of Michigan, and, with his years of service in Michigan schools, provide a better-funded retirement.

"I got an offer that I could not refuse," Harris said. "I am sad to leave, but I'm going back home. I have 19 years of experience back there, and that's important with retirement coming up."

Harris had never worked in California before arriving at the 18,000-student Inglewood school district in summer 2000. He previously had been superintendent in Buffalo, N.Y., where he earned a reputation for reviving music and performing arts programs.

In Inglewood, Harris furthered that reputation, opening popular arts magnets in the elementary schools and performing arts academies in the high schools. He is fond of talking about the new band uniforms. School officials credit him with improvements in student attendance and a reduction in the percentage of the district's noncredentialed teachers--from more than half to about one-third.

"I believe that Dr. Harris was certainly a visionary in the sense that he had innovative ideas and brought some good academic programs to the district," school board member Gloria Gray said.

While Inglewood maintained its reputation for strong elementary schools under Harris' watch, he was unable to make major improvements at Inglewood and Morningside high schools, both of which have the lowest rankings on the state's Academic Performance Index. "That's the life of school districts," board President Cresia Green-Davis said of Harris' departure after two years. "I'm happy for Dr. Harris."

Board members said they would install as interim superintendent Paul Possemato, a former Laguna Beach superintendent and Los Angeles Unified School District administrator. Possemato also served as Inglewood's interim superintendent before Harris' arrival in 2000. A national search for a new superintendent is likely, officials said.

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