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Tampa Bay area educator Zemenaye Harris wins Florida's Assistant Principal of the Year

Posted at 5:25 AM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 07:47:22-04

TAMPA, Fla. — One Tampa Bay area educator is being honored by the Florida Department of Education as the state's Assistant Principal of the Year following her exemplary leadership at Booker T. Washington Elementary School throughout the pandemic.

Those who work closely with Asst. Principal Zemenaye Harris say the administrator has worked hard to make school a safe haven for children and a good place to work.

But no doubt for everyone involved, it's been a tough year. A majority of the students at Booker T. Washington Elementary have been e-learning and many have seen immense hardship at home because of the pandemic.

"Not having that stability for our students," Zemenaye Harris said. "That made it very challenging."

But especially for the children who are learning in-person, administrators say in her role as assistant principal, Zemenaye Harris has worked to build relationships, checking in constantly on students, staff and caregivers.

"This is my first year as a principal and I never would have been able to accomplish what we have this year without her," said Principal Monica Barber.

During our brief visit inside the school, it's apparent how much Zemenaye Harris cares about the students.

After the ABC Action News cameras turned off, our crews watched as she checked in with every student walking down the hall, inquired about students who were late or called out for the day, and worked to make sure staff had everything they needed.

Assistant Principal Zemenaye Harris checks in with a student at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Tampa.

"She has a phenomenal way of connecting with students, families, and teachers," said Lucius Harris, who serves as an aide to the principal and works closely with the assistant principal.

The state is now honoring Zemenaye Harris as Florida's Assistant Principal of the Year.

"You have championed," said Supt. Addison Davis when the district unveiled that she was awarded the honor. "You have had so many hurdles you have had to overcome."

As this school year comes to a close, Harris and Barber know next year will bring its own challenges. Like many schools across Hillsborough County, Booker T. Washington lost teachers due to budget cuts.

But Harris is ready to face any challenge head-on.

"You cannot jump into the textbook and the standards," Harris said when asked what she would recommend for other educators struggling to navigate challenges of the pandemic and learning loss. "Yes, we're doing all of that along the way. Because that's what we're here for, but also focusing on the relationships and building."