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National Catholic Education Association honors Sts. Peter & Paul principal

January 23, 2015 Christina Gray

The nation’s top Catholic professional education association has singled out the principal of Sts. Peter and Paul School as one of nine principals in the country to be awarded the 2015 Distinguished Principal Award.

Lisa Harris will receive the award from the National Catholic Educational Association at its convention in April in Orlando, Florida.

The K-8 school with a current enrollment of 232 students is located across from Washington Square Park in North Beach. Serving the families of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish since 1925, it has been under the direction of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, or Salesian Sisters, since 1950.

Harris, 54, learned of the award just before the school holiday break in a phone call from NCEA. “A very nice gentleman from the NCEA said he had an early Christmas present for me,” Harris said in an interview with Catholic San Francisco on Jan. 6.

According to the NCEA website, the organization’s Elementary Schools Department presents the annual award to one principal in each of the geographic regions into which the department divides the country in recognition of the “vital leadership role that principals play in American Catholic education.” Candidates are nominated by the local superintendent of schools. The nominee’s application also includes written testimonials from educators, parents and the community.

Maureen Huntington, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said she nominated Harris because she is an “extraordinary administrator” and “a wonderful example of quality leadership in Catholic schools.” Huntington will join Harris and her family in Orlando for the awards ceremony.

“We identified Lisa as someone who had all the qualifications of an ideal candidate,” Huntington said. “It’s a very prestigious award in Catholic education.”

Harris has been an educator in the archdiocese for 30 years, 29 of which have been spent at Sts. Peter and Paul School. Her father attended the school as a child and both her mother and sister are longtime teachers in the junior high.

“I have a strong family connection to this parish and school,” Harris said.

Harris was hired as a teacher at the school after graduating from San Francisco State University and earning a teaching credential and later, a master’s degree in education. She went on to become vice principal from 1992-1998 and after earning her doctorate in education at the University of San Francisco, became the school’s first lay principal in 1998.

In her candidacy application, Harris was asked to detail some of her strengths and achievements. The creation of a Leadership Team was at the top of that list. The team is composed of six faculty members who share responsibility with Harris for decisions about student learning and school policies.

“We really operate the school as a team,” she said. Being a principal today is an ever-expanding job, she said, really too big for one person. Schools are big businesses, with multimillion dollar budgets and large staffs and constituencies to manage. “To have these people in place has been amazing.”

She is also proud of the school’s mentoring program that gives outgoing students a better than 98 percent first-choice acceptance rate in the competitive San Francisco high school application pool.

When asked to characterize her award-winning style of leadership as principal, Harris was quick to deflect much personal glory. Instead, she said she is accepting the award on behalf of all the extraordinary people she works with and other school principals in the archdiocese.

“On behalf of our category of workers, of all Catholic school principals, I am happy to accept this on their behalf,” she said.

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