In spite of challenges Susan Harris faced in the recent school year, the resilient principal of Peterson Middle School has continued to embrace her job and the students she oversees.
“I love that I get to help kids every day and I really love middle school students,” says Harris. “They grow and change so much here. My philosophy is to be open and supportive of all students regardless of their age and ability. At Peterson, I love that we support the whole child in their social, emotional and academic pathways.”
On May 20, the Santa Clara Unified School District awarded Harris the Administrator of the Year award. Harris felt shocked, proud and honored to receive the award. She has led Peterson School as principal for seven years. Prior to that, she taught sixth grade at the school for 14 years and was principal at Kathryn Hughes Elementary School for two years. Born and raised in Santa Clara, Harris attended Santa Clara schools, including Buchser Middle School, named after her grandfather Emil R. Buchser.
“I think I received the award as outstanding administrator because I persevered through a very difficult time in my professional career,” says Harris, referring to her plea for a restraining order against school board member Christopher Stampolis last fall. “I was challenged by a parent who was also a board member of the school district. My integrity was questioned. There were allegations made about me that were untrue. It just so happened that my fight was captured on camera and I had a judge back it with a restraining order.”
Harris believes her actions could have impacted the results of the last November election when two incumbent school board members were defeated.
“While my grandfather, Emil R. Buchser, whom I’ve never met, literally unified the school district with all of the building of the schools, making SCUSD a K-12 unified school district, I feel my administrative experience this year also unified our school district in its own special way, more on the emotional level,” Harris says. “I believe my personal journey in holding Stampolis accountable for his actions brought together the families, district staff, and the Santa Clara community, as evidenced in the November election.”
Harris admits that it wasn’t an easy task to take a stand, but felt the community needed someone to advocate for what was right.
“When your co-administrators select you to be administrator of the year, what they’re saying is ‘Sue, you did this for all of us,'” she says. “We were all in fear of certain members of the old board. A lot of our friends left the district because they were uncertain about what was going to happen with the leadership of our district.”
Harris is grateful for the encouragement of her peers, the current board and the superintendent. She has also received positive correspondence from peer educators, administrators and teachers, some of whom she has never met.She also credits her family, including husband Greg and father Bob Buchser, for their support during hard times.
As Harris wraps up the school year, she and her husband look forward to spending time with friends and family, including attending a family reunion during the summer.