Longtime Deer Park ISD administrator to be next superintendent
Harrell, 53, has spent two decades with the district as a member of the faculty and an administrator and was named the lone finalist for the position in January. The board gave final approval for him to be superintendent on Feb.
For Harrell, the appointment is something of a passing of the baton, with White having served as both colleague and mentor.
Both were both principals in the district at the same time.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” said Harrell, who became assistant superintendent in
He said of White, “The the man is full of wisdom and a person of very high moral character…someone you would want to be around.”
Their bond goes back to when Harrell was a student and athlete in junior high school and high school and White was working in the district as an educator and coach.
“The man had a great impact on my life at that time and is probably one of the main reasons I pursued a career in education,” Harrell said. “You don’t think about it at the time, but those experiences you have with people that coach you and teach you — you remember the great ones and those are the ones that make you want to have that same impact on kids, and that ultimately has put me here in this position today.”
Said White: “Our business is all about people. As long as Stephen remembers that and that the decisions he makes places students’ interests and success first, he’ll be a success.”
Like White, Harrell believes that having spent much of his career in the classroom gives an administrator an edge.
“You have that credibility with teachers,” Harrell said. “When I went into education, I didn’t think I was going in it to be a superintendent. I thought I was going to be a teacher and a coach, which were the things that drew me into the profession. As your priorities change, you see how administrators can have an impact on a bigger scale. Now, you are impacting an entire district.”
White is credited with driving the district’s embrace of digital technology and its emphasis on using social media to communicate.
Harrell said he wants to continue White’s lead in embracing change.
The education and career options for students have changed over the past 30 years, Harrell said.
“We’ve got stay in the forefront of career technology,” he said. “Look at where we are (with the petrochemical industry). We’ve got to able to change with that shifting tide and make sure that when students graduate from Deer Park High School, they are prepared to get what they need. Whether it’s going to work in the refineries, college or joining the military — we have to have diverse opportunities for everyone.”
Harrell, a Deer Park High School graduate, has served as both assistant principal and principal of Deepwater Junior High and as principal at Bonnette Junior High. He was a science teacher and coach from
“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student you taught or coached 20 years ago remember you,” he said. “I want to create an environment in the district where students want to come to school and (faculty) want to come back.”
Harrell lives in Deer Park with his wife, who is a Pasadena ISD administrator.
Get to know the next Deer Park ISD superintendent
“I want to credit my mother,” said Harrell, a Deer Park High School grad who is Deer Park ISD’s assistant superintendent of administration. “When I got into teaching I really thought I would do that for my whole career, but my mother told me to get my mid-management master’s degree, and I did even though I thought I would never use it.”
But use it he did. Harrell took his advanced degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake and leveraged it into a job as an assistant principal at Deepwater Junior High School, a role he stayed in for six years until he was named principal, a job he had for four years. Before moving into that role, Harrell would spent three years teaching biology at Deer Park High School where he was also a football and track coach.
Besides his mother’s guidance, other factors influenced Harrell’s decision to move away from teaching and into administration, namely his want to start a family and to take a break from the rigors of coaching high school football.
“That job is 24/7,” he said of his time on the gridiron. “At that point I started thinking, ‘How else can I impact kids? What other direction can I take?’”
District finding new ways to connect
Now, as Harrell and colleagues work to adjust to teaching and running a school district in the midst of the COVID pandemic, he is building trust with co-workers and community members in a different and unexpected way.
“We are in triage mode helping to ensure that our students’ social and emotional needs are met along with their academic needs during this unprecedented time,” Harrell said.
He lauded the work of the entire teaching staff as well as those in the departments of instruction and technology to launch remote learning for students and said Deer Park ISD remains focused on “implementing continuity of instruction to our students” so they don’t lose too much ground academically. He also called the situation an “opportunity to reinvent the way we connect with each other.”
“Together we will conquer this new way of working with our families,” he said.
Experience from a variety of positions
At Deepwater, Harrell was under the tutelage of then-Principal Jimmy Meekins. Of him, the soon-to-be superintendent said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. “He taught me how to treat people, how to treat parents and kids, how to be a real leader for that campus.”
Superintendent White agrees. In a previous interview, he said of Harrell,“Our business is all about people. As long as Stephen remembers that and that the decisions he makes places students’ interests and success first, he’ll be a success.”
After a decade at Deepwater, Harrell moved to Bonnette Junior High School as principal. The move was a suggestion by former superintendent Arnold Adair.
“Every campus has its own culture, and he wanted me to have more experience. I credit that move with giving me a more broad experience and a more complete look at the district,” he said.
Once he completed four years at Bonnette, Harrell was ready to make a move again, this time to Deer Park ISD’s central administration office. He took the job of assistant superintendent for administration, overseeing the district’s safety and security, maintenance, athletic department and student services. As he looks forward to his new task in the fall, he admits he has lots to learn in terms of curriculum and instruction when he becomes superintendent next fall.
“I’m not ashamed to say that there will be a learning curve in that department, but we have great people in place to help me,” he said.
As he moves into the spot currently held by Superintendent White, Harrell said he’s lucky to come after someone who successfully led the district into an “A” rating from the Texas Education Agency.
“I’m not looking to come in and make big, sweeping changes,” Harrell said. “I just want to turn out graduates every year who are ready to tackle the challenges of adulthood. That’s what everyone is vested in.”
To help him in that goal, Harrell said he’s lucky to follow in the footsteps of White, whom he called “a man of high character” and someone he doesn’t want to fall short of.
He acknowledged the hefty role he’s taking on as superintendent, but insisted it’s the job he wants and wants to do well. To that end, before the closure of schools because of the coronavirus threat, he’d stepped up his visibility on campuses, reading to elementary school kids and attending choir and band events.
“You can’t influence people if they don’t trust you,” he said.
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Deer Park Independent School District
Deer Park Independent School District is a public school district in Deer Park, Texas in the Houston metropolitan area.
The school district is traceable to when a single elementary facility opened on Deer Park's Center Street along Highway  In , the small school (approximately thirty students) was greatly expanded, and additional facilities were created in neighboring areas. The district was officially formed for the school year of , and today it serves most of Deer Park, a portion of Pasadena and La Porte, and the unincorporated area of Lynchburg. Its total enrollment is approximately 12, students.
In , the school district was rated "recognized" by the Texas Education Agency.
List of schools in DPISD
- Deepwater Elementary, established 
- San Jacinto Elementary, established 
- W.A. Carpenter Elementary, established 
- Deer Park Elementary, established 
- Parkwood Elementary, established 
- J.P. Dabbs Elementary, established
- Fairmont Elementary, established
- Early Childhood Center
Junior High schools
- Deer Park Junior High, established 
- Deepwater Junior High, established 
- J.P. Bonnette Junior High, established
- Fairmont Junior High, established
- Deer Park High School - North Campus (9th grade), established as original high school, established as North Campus 
- Deer Park High School - South Campus (10th–12th grades), established
- Deer Park High School - Wolters Campus
University Interscholastic League (UIL)
Several of Deer Park High School's athletic and fine arts programs have placed in state competitions or won state championships.
- UIL AAAAA State Champions- One Act Play
- UIL AAAAA State Champions- Softball
- UIL AAAAA State Qualifying- One Act Play
- UIL AAAAA State Qualifying- One Act Play
Coordinates: 29°43′32″N95°05′29″W / °N °W / ;
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