Like Mentor, whom Odysseus placed in charge of his son Telemachus when he left for the Trojan War, Harrison Bailey III watches over more than 800 students.
As an assistant principal at Parkland High School, Allentown, Pa., Harrison Bailey III ’95 oversees safety, graduation, hall monitors, and teacher duties. In addition, he has responsibility for 800 students. While overseeing their discipline and attendance is fundamental, he is also part of the advisory team assigned to each of them that includes a guidance counselor.
“The most meaningful aspect of what I do,” says Bailey, in a rich, oratory voice, “is interacting with the students. I have the opportunity to mentor them and help them work out plans to further their interest in a particular area or to move toward the career that they envision for themselves.”
In addition, he started a Cultural Awareness Club a few years ago and continues as the adviser. The club, which has about 75 members, includes students from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.
The school has 3,200 students, and Bailey says that although he may not work with each one directly, he does get to know them all by face. Establishing that one-to-one connection is an important foundation not only for building rapport between administration and students but also for spotting signs that could indicate a problem or a strength that needs a little nurturing.
And it was experiencing just that kind of nurturing that led Bailey to his current role. While he describes being an assistant principal as a blessing and knows now that it is something he was “meant to do,” the route to this destination was indirect.
“In my senior year at Lafayette I was talking with Fluney [Gladstone Hutchinson, associate professor of economics and business] about my future, and said I wanted to go into public speaking,” recalls Bailey. “He said ‘why would anyone want to ask you to speak? First, you need to get your master’s.’”
Then, as Bailey neared completion of his master’s in education at Lehigh University, he received a second similar message. The professor for his last class suggested that he could be an educational administrator and still do public speaking. So, Bailey conducted an internship while obtaining his principalship certification. He found the interaction with students to be the most interesting part of his work. In 2000, he applied for an opening at Parkland High School to gain experience in interviewing. To his surprise, he was hired, and the unfoldment began.
The importance of mentoring in Bailey’s life and the difference he has seen it make in his own students’ lives, is pivotal to him. He is currently working with colleagues from area high schools to hold a conference on leadership and mentoring and will soon begin work on his doctorate with plans to write a thesis on the role mentoring plays in students’ outcomes.
“A lot of great people helped me get where I am today,” says Bailey, who grew up in Lakewood, N.J., “my high school coach, my babysitter from age 2 to 13 since both my parents worked in New York City, and the many topnotch teachers that I have had. I was helped to achieve, and I am devoted to helping others in the same way.”
Bailey, who is wearing his Patriot League championship ring, says his experience at Lafayette as co-chair of the Brothers of Lafayette and captain of the track and football teams made him comfortable with being a leader. “That experience fortified my administrative skills,” he says. In addition, attending Lafayette prepared him for what he is going through now– being the only African American professional in the school district until a year ago. “Getting through the culture shock of being a minority at Lafayette has helped me handle it here. It doesn’t hold me back at all, but it does have an effect.”
Bailey sets high expectations for himself academically and professionally and inspires students to do the same. He also excels in the world of athletics. Current U.S. Champion of the Highland Games, in which he has competed in for 10 years as a professional, he holds the Lafayette record in football for career quarterback sacks and in track and field for discus.
The first and only African American who participates in the Highland Games, Bailey was introduced to the sport by Paul Ferency, his discus coach at Lafayette and a former World Record holder. “Paul agreed to coach me,” says Bailey, “and I started training in 1997.” After playing amateur for several years, he turned pro in 1999.
The Highland Games began centuries ago in Scotland as competitions of strength, speed, agility, and skill. The events, which have changed little over time, include lifting a heavy stone, throwing the hammer, and tossing the caber. And participants still wear kilts. Although not Scottish, one of Bailey’s great-grandfathers was Irish so sometimes he wears the Bailey tartan but also wears the Cairn one as well.
The circuit of competitions runs from April through November with the U.S. National Highland Athletic Championship held at the Celtic Classic in Bethlehem, Pa., in September. Bailey also placed first in the World Championship in 2006 and 2008; he is the three-time World Record holder for weight over the bar (WOB) at 20 feet.
This past season, Bailey participated in 18 competitions. From November to April, he does drills and lifting to stay in shape and begins throwing outside in March, increasing frequency to three or four days a week in April.
“Keeping such a rigorous schedule would not be possible without the support of my wife, Kimberly,” says Bailey. “We met when we were getting our master’s degrees, and she’s a teacher, too.” They have three children and live in Williams Township, Pa. Bailey, who has remained close to his fellow teammates, has gatherings at his home.
“The brotherhood I experienced at Lafayette was very important to me,” says Bailey. “The men I got to know are still my closest friends.” He adds that the brotherhood aspect of the Highland Games is part of what attracted him to them.
And what of the dream to be a public speaker? Bailey has given several commencement addresses and looks forward to developing more opportunities in the future.
Bailey recognizes that he could have gone into a different profession and earned twice the salary, but “I chose to be in a situation in which I could mentor young students forward to achieve their highest.”
The words carved into the lintel at the high school’s entrance are: “educating for success, inspiring excellence.” No more apt description for the leadership of Harrison Bailey III could be found.
Originally featured in Lafayette’s Winter 2011 McDonogh Report. Read more.