Mustang Roundup
Alumni Edition

If you have alumni news, send it to us at editor@EastHigh.org


The East High Alumni Page www.easthigh.org July 1, 2010

In this issue:
New Principal Eric Harris

For past editions of the Mustang Roundup - Alumni Edition, see our Alumni Edition Archives

Our immediate past principal

Fred Curry, East High principal 2005-2010Fred Curry is one of 4 principals to serve 5 or more years at East in its 63 class year history.


When he came to East High, the school needed stability and Fred Curry gave it that. Prior to his administration, the pricipal's job had changed hands five times in eight years. It seemed some high profile incidents involving East pupils, both on and off campus, garnered the attention of school system officials and they began taking a close look at East's administration.

Missing laptop computers, bookkeeping issues, and, perhaps pupil fights, lead to Mr. Curry's leaving East. On April 15, 2010, shortly after several girls at East allegedly jumped other girls in the hallway, Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash suspended Curry with pay and initiated an audit and investigation, Cash saying he was "very worried about the culture and safety" at East. Mr. Curry told a reporter he was very proud of East High.

Although the audit and survey was completed before the month of April ended, it was not released to the public immediately. An interim principal was brought in to finish the final month of the school year.

On June 21, 2010, the school system announced new principals for the coming year, including Eric Harris for East High. Superintendent Cash told The East High Alumni Page that Curry remained in the pool of administrators available to him for appointment to other positions. School board member Dr. Jeff Warren, whose district encompasses East High, said he hoped another position could be found for Curry.

A few days later, the report generated by the audit was released and is available here. It cites a lack of control, some missing student funds, and missing and insecure laptop computers as problems. Curry responded to each area of concern, taking responsibility and assuring the school system administration that corrections would be made. Nonetheless, Cash said Curry's five year tenure at East High was over.

As best as The East High Alumni Page has been able to determine, prior to the appointment of Mr. Harris, East High has had 13 principals in its history, only four of which have served 5 school years or longer:

Mr. J.P. Snider (East's first principal) 16 years
Mr. Ronnie Bynum  11 years
Mr. J.G. Griesbeck  8 years
Mr. Fred Curry  5 years


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Artifacts Wanted

The East High Alumni Page has decided it may be the appropriate  repository of East High memorabilia and reference material. If you have artifacts of East that you would like to donate to us, please let us know. The older the better. We are particularly interested in Annuals (yearbooks), sound recordings of faculty and school events, pictures of events at the school, video recordings of events at the school, and student telephone directories. Currently of great interest are any audio recordings of East's first principal, J.P. Snider. If you have a recording or know of anyone who does, contact us. We'd like to hear from you also if you have any of the memorabilia which we seek. More details as to what would benefit The East High Alumni Page are on our Resource Needs Page.


The Mustang Roundup Alumni Edition is published on an ad-hoc basis on the World Wide Web by The East High Alumni Page (www.easthigh.org) and is an independent Web publication. Neither the Alumni Edition nor The East High Alumni Page is officially associated with East High School or Memphis City Schools.

Mustang Roundup
Alumni Edition

An on-line publication of The East High Alumni Page
www.easthigh.org
Editor: K. Welch


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1991 Alumnus Takes Charge at East High
Eric Harris, East's New Principal
"I absolutely loved this school while I was here, I did, still do"
Mr. Eric Harris, East's new principal, at his desk
As a child, he told his mother he wanted to be principal of East High. 

On June 22, 2010, he got his wish.

Mr. Eric Harris says he was "very giddy" after getting the news he had the East High job and was "just coming down from that high" a few days later when he graciously sat down with a representative of The East High Alumni Page for an interview.

The funny thing is, when this happened, I've gotten a billion calls this week, people with "congratulations, thank you, we're glad to have you," that kind of stuff but it seems that every person that's every really known me was not surprised. They knew it was always something I wanted to do. There's no secret that I've always wanted to come to this school and I've always wanted to come to this school as principal. It was just amazing. "You got your wish, you got your wish." And, you know, some people, "be careful what you wish for." But, yeah, I always wanted to be here. And apparently I did a good job of making sure people knew that.

The new principal says the new job is much more than that. "This is not just a situation with me wanting to get a promotion and an income promotion, it's not, it's so much more than that to me."

Thirty-seven year old Eric Harris comes from an East High family. Of his 6 siblings, 5 graduated from East, the first in 1975. As the youngest, he followed them, entering East in the seventh grade and graduating from the school in 1991.

"I absolutely loved this school while I was here, I did, still do," says Harris, citing the diversity of the people, some who were college bound, some hardworking from the neighborhood, who attended East. He said there was a shared "mustang culture" among all the students. "It didn't matter who you were or where you came from... When I say diverse I don't necessarily mean racial... any culture, economic factor you can have, we had in this building and everybody got along great. "

The elementary school aspiration to become principal was a result of his family being so involved with East, Harris surmises. The school was part of his upbringing even before he attended as he went there to watch his older brothers and sisters participating in programs, clubs, and sports. "It seems I was always there." He got involved, too, when he became a student at East. He was in the engineering optional program and played football, baseball, and ran track.

After high school, he considered pursuing his engineering studies but instead entered the workforce for about 5 or 6 years. The real world showed him the value of education.

"Even though I was doing well for a person my age, I was doing very well ... I realized I wanted to go back to school. I didn't like the situation of other people coming into the company as my supervisor just because they were college graduates."

Although he was sure he would have pursued an engineering degree if he had gone to college right out of high school, "when I had time to reflect and kind of got back to my roots and what I always wanted to do, that was education." He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and then got his M.A. from Christian Brothers University in educational leadership/administration.

East is the first assignment as principal for Harris. He has three years in school administration, oneBeginning his third day as East High principal. year at Cordova High and then as an assistant principal at White Station High where he served as principal of the 11th grade for two years. As a history teacher, his first classroom job was at Evangelical Christian School, then he went to Brighton High School in Tipton County, came back to Wooddale in Memphis, joined the school administration at Cordova High, then went to White Station.

Given the opportunity to comment on the financial and bookkeeping issues that have caused problems for 3 East principals in the past 15 years, Harris said he did not want to discuss issues that former principals may have faced. Still, he offered assurances that "everything under this roof is a concern and is something I'm going to spend a lot of time on making sure that I fully understand and that things are following policy on every issue..."

Although Memphis City Schools administration has appointed Harris to the top job at East, a job that could be difficult, there is another potential difficulty he has yet to face. That is a November date in Juvenile Court, where Harris is charged, along with the White Station principal, with the misdemeanor of failing to comply with a state law requiring police be notified if a student is abused to the point of injury at school. The incident happened last September but neither Harris nor the White Station principal were suspended. Harris declined to comment on the situation during this interview. Instead, he is focused on East High and what he needs to do there.

"I've spent the last two days trying to see where this school is," said the new principal. He's received a lot of information in two days and says he's had to spend time just trying to organize that data so he can work with it. After getting a sense of the situation at East, "then I'll make plans."

He does say that two of his long term priorities are on increasing enrollment and optional programs which are college preparatory for health sciences, allied health, engineering, and computer science. "There're only about a thousand kids here, when I was here there were about 1,800. In that increase in enrollment I'd like to make the optional program back what it was, a place where kids from all over the city felt they had to come if they wanted a great education."

"We were one of the better optional schools in the city, actually in the southeast of the county. There's no doubt about that."

"My biggest challenge is getting the
academics where it should be here."

White Station High School, Harris' previous assignment, has a college preparatory optional program and about 50% of the pupils are enrolled it that. "When I was here at East, this school was about 50% optional. Right now, we maybe not even five percent optional out here at East and that's why that optional enrollment has to increase. When I was here, we rivaled White Station when it came to scores and optional programs... It was, hey, we have two great choices here, where do you want to go to school? I want to get back to that. I want to get back to the situation where when kids are very bright here in the city they want to come here. The thing is, if you get scores up and you perform well academically, not only do you get the brightest of the bright but you also get the ordinary student who can contribute to the campus in a lot of other ways that also want to come here. You know, people beating the door down... [wanting] to come to that school."

He said that back the late 1980s and early 1990s, East and White Station were competing for those students, some chose East, some White Station, but the optional programs at East were a big draw. "My biggest challenge is getting the academics where it should be here. I want this school to be an academic leader." Only being on the job for two days, Harris could not yet offer what he thought a time line for substantial academic progress at East.

The big thing with this school there's no [intermediate level] support system. If you're going to take this class, that's a high level class, you need to take some classes to build you up, prerequisites, to get you ready for that. So, there are a lot of classes here [below that level] and there are a lot of classes here [at that high level] but there are no classes to build them up to that point."

He'd like to put some things in the schedule for the coming school year, but he had not yet had a chance to see what the previously established schedule was and if he'll be able to make changes this late, if he thinks they are needed. One thing he does say is that after visiting the school a few times this spring, regardless of the various levels of academic performance among East students, he believes the building is full of "good kids, just good kids."

Harris was asked about the latest released ACT composite score average at East, which was 17.07 for 2008-2009 (equating to about a 13.07 in pre-1989 ACT scoring) which seems pretty low compared to the best performing city high school, White Station, with a 23.71.,

It is. The reason that's not good is because most colleges require 18, 19 for basic entrance to the school. You've got to have 21 to get [Tennessee Lottery] Hope Scholarship money. It costs you not to do well on the ACT these days. Even for those kids who aren't going to college the ACT is a good gage on skills they will need after high school. More and more employers are looking at the transcripts from high school, they are. Again, it's not necessarily the type of student you are, but how you can perform in those various areas and the ACT is one of those they look at. It's a very important test and if you want a situation where your students are prepared for college that's a hurdle they have to do well on and that's something we're going to address here. That's got to come up.

Although this is the first principal's job for Harris, he is getting some advice from Mr. Harry Durham, who was a principal for a number of years in the Memphis City School System and is helping with the transition. Durham had served at East for a full year school year in 2002-2003 as an interim principal and in April of this year was called upon to leave an interim assignment as principal of an elementary school to lead East during its final month of the school year. He is staying on during some of the summer to help Harris prepare for the coming school year. For a retired principal, Durham keeps busy but seems up to the job. "I try to take care of myself," he says. Now he is again helping take care of East High as it goes to another transition in the top job.

"These kids just don't read well."

There could be a lot of areas cited as academic weaknesses in many of the Memphis City Schools.  A former student at East expressed concerns about national polls indicating today's pupils were not well founded in American history and government. Harris says he believes that is part of a bigger issue.

I think it's a problem but I think the problem is not alone history and government, I think its more of literacy. It's a literacy issue. If you look at more data, kids today are not as avid readers as they used to be. You have a lot of kids in your building, say most principals, who are not on their grade level when it comes to reading. They just don't have it. So if you attack that you get your literacy rate up, you get kids reading more and able to comprehend reading more, then not only history and government but all subjects will increase and they'll do much better. It's simply they don't understand what they're reading. Reading comprehension is really big with me. That's something I figured out when I was teaching. These kids just don't read well.

The East High Alumni Page has apparently helped Harris prepare for the new job. In response to another alumnus inquiry if he was aware of East's history since its inception and the legacy of past principals and dedicated teachers, the new principal replied:

Absolutely, yeah, and again, that's a lot of the information I got from your web site. Here I am, Mr. East High School so I say and everyone identifies me with this school and there were just a lot of things I did not know. I went through and read things about the construction of the school, the decision to have the school, about the first principal who died in a [car] crash, and all of those were really great. Honestly, the people who graduated with me, really, the only thing we knew about the history of the school is that Cybill Shepherd went here. And that's all we knew. Yes, I do appreciate the history and I'm learning a lot more."

Asked about his aspirations, Harris said, "I tend to look at my life 5 or so years down the road and right now I'm just focused on East High School. I can't see past that because of the work that's got to be done here. For what I want to do it's going to take some time and, hopefully, there'll be progression every year so I can't foresee myself doing anything after that. Once I get a handle on this maybe I can start thinking a little more about that. Right now it's all about this school.

His phone has been ringing with friends and former classmates congratulating him on the new job. He and other classmates have been talking about their upcoming class reunion and Harris says the great thing about it when one of them called and noted that his first year's graduating class as principal will be exactly 20 years after they graduated. "Man, I think that's neat."

You'd think having attended East for 6 years, getting an EHS diploma and now returning as principal would be the extent of his connections with the school. Not so. His wife, Ameerah, also attended East, also graduating in '91 and it was as students there that they met. They have two sons, Cameron, 13, and Elijah, 9. Although he admits he does not have the free time to pursue many hobbies or playing sports like he used to, anything sports related draws his interest. He says he's also a handyman but pursuing that interest and other hobbies may have to wait until he is retired.

At the risk of sounding like a late night advertisement for some dinky product, let this writer say, but wait, there's more! Harris has even another connection with East. He went to elementary school at another institution often cited for excellence, Grahamwood Elementary, "and that's another neat thing. You know Margaret Taylor [East faculty 1955-1969] was my principal there. And [now] I look up and see she taught here in the ‘50s and I say oh my goodness... and she's still involved in the program. She's still in The Greater East High Foundation program, which is neat... She's something else."

Bill Sehnert, one of the closest observers of East High School who is not a school system employee, says Harris "realizes the utmost importance of community and alumni support. He knows the support comes from achieving East's mission, to raise the academic standards and assure students really learn as well as become responsible and productive citizens." Sehnert is director of The Greater East High Foundation and is at East most school days, many Saturdays, and even during the summer overseeing the Foundation's Peer Power tutoring and other programs. He believes Harris "has the desire, understanding and humility to be a very good 'Long-Term' principal."

That surely is something the school system, parents and pupils, and the alumni are hoping.



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This profile of new East High principal Eric Harris was written and photographed by Ken Welch ('68), editor of The East High Alumni Page.

2010 K. L. Welch. All rights reserved.

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