Gene Harris began serving as superintendent of the Columbus school district in 2001. Columbus is Ohio’s largest school district.
She announced her retirement on Sept. 20 as the state auditor investigates whether Columbus and other school districts improperly changed student data to make their schools’ performance look better, particularly on state report cards. Her retirement is effective July 1, 2013.
Harris has said her retirement is not related to the ongoing investigation.
Harris has denied giving the order to make the data changes. But she did not tell school workers to stop altering student-attendance data until June 2012, nearly a year after she said she had learned of possible problems with student data, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Harris began her education career as a Columbus classroom teacher. She later worked as a principal and central-office administrator. She worked for the Ohio Department of Education for four years before returning to the Columbus district to serve as deputy superintendent and then superintendent.
During Harris’ superintendency, the Columbus school district’s state ratings improved. When she took office, the district had received F’s from the state for four years in a row. As of the 2010-11 school year, Columbus received C’s from the state for five years in a row. The number of Columbus schools receiving grades of A or B also increased.
(However, the Ohio Department of Education has said it may retroactively downgrade state ratings for districts and schools that improperly changed student data.)
Under Harris’ watch, voters approved three separate levies and a 15-year capital improvement plan began. As of September 2012, that plan resulted in 39 new and renovated buildings.
Harris graduated from Linden-McKinley High School in Columbus and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame, according to her official district bio. She earned a master’s degree from Ohio State University and doctorate from Ohio University.
Harris’ tenure of 11 years is longer than many urban superintendents’. The average tenure for urban superintendents nationwide is about 4 years, according to the Council of Great City Schools’ 2010 survey of 56 urban school districts.