Don Harris Retiring

BOE Chairman Harris will not Run for Re-Election
Posted on 06/12/2023
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Longtime Board of Education Chairman Donald Frederick. Harris, Jr., known to some as “Mr. Bloomfield” because of his half-century of service to town, has announced that he will not be running for re-election in November.

Don Harris 2019

Harris, who turned 79 June 7, said there were several factors that contributed to his decision. The main reason, he said, is that he is in good health and has served the town in a wide array of leadership roles -- teacher, athletic director, vice principal, principal, deputy mayor and board chair - for 56 years. He worked in the school system for 39 years - from 1967 - 2006. 

“I thought long and hard about this,” said Harris. “I reflected on my professional career in education and community leadership roles, and thought it was a good time to scale back. My plan is to continue to serve the voters, and especially the children in town, by being a strong advocate for as long as I can. I was never in this for the politics. I love kids.’’

Harris’ announcement to the school board this week came less than a week after Bloomfield Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thompson Jr. advised the board and community of his intentions to retire in 2024. The two have known each other for 62 years and worked for 12 years together in the school system, with Harris as board chairman. Harris said it is not a coincidence that he and his childhood friend are leaving at the same time.

“I am most proud of being a part of the success that is Bloomfield Public Schools,’ Harris said. “The multitude of programs that we have established are good for children, including a new pre-school program, a new talented and gifted program, Steps to Success and our Portrait of a Graduate initiative. We’ve also had tremendous success in athletics and in the arts.”

Known for his candor, affable nature and strong advocacy for the school system, Harris never minced words when responding to school critics who made what he thought were ill-informed or misguided statements.

“Don has been a champion in providing important context and clarity about the progress in our schools,” Thompson said. “His strong leadership presence and his commitment to equity and excellence in education earned him much respect in town and the Greater Hartford community. Don was also a man of his word. And people understood that.”

Harris is a past president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. He was recently recognized by CABE with its 2022 Philip S. Fenster Distinguished Service Award for lifetime commitment to public education.

He is also a former president of the Capital Region Education Council board and a current member of the State Board of Education.

CABE Executive Director and General Counsel Patrice McCarthy said Harris’ contribution to the organization was significant because of his insight and “passion for public education at the state level.’’

During his tenure with CABE, including a two-year stint as President in 2019-21, she said Harris led the organization through a plethora of challenges, including supporting school boards, superintendents, students and families during the pandemic.

“Whether he was chairing a meeting of the Board of Directors, or presenting workshops on maintaining civility at public meetings and the importance of school-board service, Don’s lifetime of experience as an educator and public official enriched the experience,’’ McCarthy said. “He always demonstrates his understanding of the roles of staff and board members.”

Robert Ike, longtime chairman of Bloomfield’s Republican Town Committee and a veteran member the board of education, said he considers Harris – a Democrat - a mentor and a consensus-builder.

“Don has led the BOE in a common-sense manner,” Ike said. “Although as members we may not have been in harmony on all issues, Don, via his leadership, allowed the Board to reach a consensus so we - as policy makers -could move the district forward in a positive manner.

Harris, married to retired-educator Dr. Martha Brackeen-Harris, has deep roots in Bloomfield and comes from a family of teachers and school administrators. The agriscience and technology center at Bloomfield High School is named after Harris ‘deceased father.

Donald F. Harris Sr. was a former Hartford school teacher and vice principal who was deeply involved in Bloomfield’s human relations and parks and recreation committees. He was the first African American elected to the Bloomfield school board in 1967, serving for eight years; four as vice chairman.

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