After overseeing the remodeling and expansive construction project at the “home” where she and her entire family — parents and siblings — walked the halls as students, Shannon Harris is moving on after six years as principal at Natrona County High School. We chatted with her about her experience at her alma mater, her 37-year, often long-distance marriage, and what lies ahead as superintendent of Sublette County 1, home of the Pinedale Wranglers.
What have been the best parts of your job as principal? The students and seeing their success and the amazing things they accomplish every day and every year. The second thing would be the outstanding dedicated staff who put kids first and care about their success. And then the once in a lifetime chance to rebuild and remodel the high school where I graduated from as principal. To oversee the construction project at the school level has been a surreal, amazing experience that I’ll always treasure.
What’s your favorite place after the remodel? My very favorite thing is the way that from CY and on the outside, we still have the traditional Gothic architecture from the time I was a little kid seeing “the castle.” Seeing how that was restored but when you walk inside, it’s all state of the art. That’s what I appreciate the most, the character and history remain while giving our kids a state of the art learning facility.
What are your numbers and compare that to Pinedale. We have 1,650 at Natrona this year and over 100 in virtual; projecting to 1,860 next year. This year we were about 100 less than that. In Pinedale, there are 1,044 in the entire district. There are five schools — Bondurant Elementary has six to eight students and is about 40 miles away, there’s an alternative school of 20ish students in the central office; the high school and middle school are hooked together with central office and the Pinedale Aquatics Center and there is an amazing, beautiful elementary school.
Having come through the pandemic, why is now the time to leave for you? There were six or seven superintendent jobs open. As a school administrator, I love the high school but it was always in the back of my mind to maybe someday be a superintendent. Our permanent home is in Afton over in Star Valley, which is 120 miles from Pinedale versus 350 from Casper. I honestly didn’t think I had a shot at the job. The last time it was open there were 88 applicants. I liked the small community, it’s a good high performing district I’d like to be a part of. This is the only job I applied for. If they had said no, I would have been at Natrona until I retired.
So this long-distance marriage is fascinating. Tell us about it. My husband, Carl Harris, was working for the Department of Family Services when we lived in Afton before coming back to Casper. He was working in Cheyenne and we would commute on the weekends. Then after I came to Natrona, he transferred with DFS to Casper and he’s the CEO of Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming. We’ve been together in the same place for work for 5-1/2 years. We’ve been married almost 37 years, have three grown children and six granddogs, none of whom are in Casper, so we’ve always spent a lot of time on the road. This is nothing new for us. All of our family is in Idaho, Utah and Arizona. I will be closer to them now. Before I applied for Pinedale, we discussed it long and hard. We both really love our jobs and are dedicated to our work. He gave me the Michael Jordan quote as I was deciding, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” We have always had a supportive family, we have moved to support one another, we make it work. I feel confident it will work just fine for us here too. We’ll meet at home in Afton. We had been there 11 years before our six years here.
When you came to Natrona, you mentioned wanting to be back in a building with students and staff. Do you see yourself hands-on in Pinedale? I do envision that and I think that is what the community is wanting from me at this time in Sublette County. In their schools, at their activities, supportive of the students and their staff. In a small community, you get to do more of that from the central office than you do in larger districts.
How much green do you have in your wardrobe? Before I came back to Casper, I’d wear three colors, black and white and my favorite accent was lime green. If I ever had a color on, it was usually lime green. So the very first day I was here, I wore a lime green polo and I walked in and they said, “You can’t wear that here,” and I said, “this is not kelly green (like Kelly Walsh), it’s lime green.” But it still wasn’t okay. So I have quite a few green things in my closet and they will be coming out. Pinedale’s colors are officially green and white but they use orange as an accent color so I will be all set.
When do you leave Natrona? School ends June 11 because of all of the snow days and summer school starts June 14. I will be here full-time the first week of summer school and if the board names my replacement, I’ve love to be here to help with the transition, especially if the hire is from outside. My contract starts in Pinedale on July 1 and the position provided me with district housing, which is nice because it’s a tough housing market.
Follow Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @wyosas.