Brian Harris sports an impressive résumé.
Superintendent of Schools in Barrington 220. Former superintendent of Wheaton-Warrenville 200, and assistant superintendent for Human Resources and Secondary Education in St. Charles 303. President of the Large Unit District Association in Illinois, an organization representing the 50 largest K-12 districts in the state. Member of the Executive Committee of the Association of School Administrators, which helps to create and advocate federal legislative policy for school superintendents across the country.
It all began in Tuscola, Ill., the seat of Douglas County.
“Hard-working Midwestern men and women have built this former railroad town into the thriving community it is today,” the city’s website proudly proclaims.
Their work also laid a foundation for Harris to thrive, something he never forgets.
“Public education is the cornerstone of American democracy. I firmly believe that,” he says. “As a small-town kid from a small farming town in central Illinois, education was my ticket to being pretty successful and influential in the big picture, and I’m hoping to be able to do that for the benefit of all kids.”
Graduate degrees from the NIU College of Education also make that possible.
NIU was the obvious choice for Harris to pursue his M.S.Ed. in Educational Administration when he began teaching government, U.S. history and social studies in Waterman in 1987 and as he moved to Yorkville for another teaching position.
Although he initially came to DeKalb for convenience and affordability, the program proved itself worthy for greater reasons.
“I quickly found out, as a young person working in public education, that NIU had an outstanding leadership program in Educational Administration and still does. I certainly have benefitted from it over the years,” Harris says. “The key, for me, is having an impact on kids.”
Earning his master’s in 1991, he became an assistant principal and eventually a principal at the middle school level in St. Charles. When he felt ready to advance again, he returned to NIU for an Ed.D. in Educational Administration.
Faculty in the program were excellent, Harris says, “not only from an academic standpoint but a practical one.”
“They did a great job of balancing the research component along with the practice of a superintendent,” he says. “The things they had us do – strategic planning exercises, financial tax levies – you don’t deal with those things when you’re a principal. Never in my all of my formal education prior to that had I created a lockstep strategic planning model, but I still use it today, nearly 20 years later.”
Harris especially remembers Professor Brent Wholeben, who retired from NIU in 2016.
“Dr. Wholeben’s style could be assertive, but he was straight-forward,” he says. “He really pushed me as a student to ‘own it,’ to create a strategic plan for over a period of time and to be a systems- and strategic-thinker.”
As superintendent, Harris oversees a large suburban district with a dozen facilities and 9,000 students – Barrington High School alone enrolls 3,000 – and usually succeeds in his priority to visit at least one school building each day.
Doing so keeps him connected to the reason he entered the profession and reminds him of who he serves.
“I became a teacher over 30 years ago because I love working with kids. I enjoyed education, and working in the classroom, and I seek every opportunity to interact with students,” he says.
“I also spend a significant amount of time in my role working in our buildings with our principals and staff, and within the community as a representative of our public schools, advocating on behalf of our students and of public education,” he adds. “My job is never boring, never the same from day to day.”
When it comes to making tough decisions, his philosophy is clear.
“Many times I get a lot of pressure from adults, community members, parents, staff – but I always go back to what’s best for kids,” he says. “I will always focus on the best interests of students.”