Published Wednesday, October 10, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Joe H. Harless, a nationally known expert on learning and achievement who lent his expertise to various projects in Coweta County, has died.
Harless died Thursday while vacationing in Hilton Head, S.C. A private family service was held.
Harless was “an intensely private person” who had “tremendous vision,” said Dr. Lucy Hayden, an educator who worked with Harless on projects and considered him a mentor. “Among the great things he brought to us here was the research background, the knowledge of the literature and [his ability to explain] how to make sense of all kinds of data.”
Harless’s father was police chief in Tuscaloosa, Ala. His grandfather was a successful, respected Alabama farmer.
Harless, 71, played a major role in the formation of Central Educational Center and was a strong supporter of the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts in Newnan. He also was an organizer of the Commission for Higher Education, which worked to get more college classes and programs to locate in Newnan.
Harless also was a writer. After writing for more than three decades on scholarly topics, he penned a novel, “Black Warrior’s Curse.” Movie rights to the 2005 novel were purchased by Newnan-based Hollywood writer/producer Terry Chenowith.
Central Educational Center is a charter school that combines high school curriculum with technical college coursework. CEC has drawn visitors from around the world and has been replicated by other school systems.
CEC “started as a concept that we talked about in the school system,” said Richard Brooks, who was Coweta School System superintendent when the new school was formed.
“Right off the bat, for what we wanted to accomplish, we knew this had to be a community partnership or it just wouldn’t work,” Brooks said.
“I had some familiarity with Joe and what he had written,” Brooks remembered. He said Harless’s expertise – and his willingness to get involved – got CEC moving quickly and effectively.
While Harless’s intellect was obvious to those who knew him, there was a warm, human factor in his personality that made his efforts effective. In working to make CEC a reality, Harless always had a commitment to “doing what was good for young adults,” Brooks said.
“I don’t think it would have moved forward as quickly. We probably would have gone through some things by trial by error that we didn’t have to with Joe there,” Brooks said. “We were fortunate to have Joe in our community.”
“The replication of the CEC model – what a tremendous impact that’s had not just across Georgia but across the nation,” Hayden observed.
Harless also helped energize community support when Brooks and other school system leaders began planning the arts center.
There was resistance to the project initially. “It was a change from the norm of what you do in education,” Brooks reflected.
“Joe was involved. He saw the need and knew the need was there. He could see into the future – what it would be,” Brooks said.
The fact that Harless was a respected person in the business community and not part of the education establishment gave his endorsement of the arts center project extra heft.
Harless and his wife, Carol, got involved in many aspects of community life after moving to Newnan. Carol Harless is an accomplished sculptor whose work is displayed in several spots in Newnan.
Joe Harless was a member of the Human Resources Development Hall of Fame and received the Member for Life award from the National Society for Performance and Instruction which later became the International Society for Performance Improvement. He designed human performance workshops that help businesses increase productivity and was sometimes called the “trainer’s trainer.”
For more than 30 years Harless headed the Harless Performance Guild, described as “a network of organizations and consultants who use his concepts and procedures to help business, industry and the military improve the performance of their employees.”
Harless was known as a groundbreaking originator of many of the facets of human performance technology. He created the Accomplishment Based Development Systems, which were integrated into educational departments of many U.S. and Canadian organizations.
His work was used by business, industry and the military. His clients included Boeing, Microsoft and nuclear reactor firms.
He worked at Harvard University, the University of Michigan and Florida State University.
Harless was one of those involved in the local Vision 2020 planning process in 2005. A wide-ranging survey of Cowetans was part of the process.
“To my knowledge, this kind of thing has never been done in any other community in America,” Harless said. “The county, city and state are very interested in what the citizens tell us.”
He described Vision 2020 as “a think-tank that is working with the community, as a whole.”
In 2006, Harless shared his concerns about the local high school dropout rate and the need for early childhood learning at a Newnan City Council meeting. He noted Coweta’s dropout numbers were in the middle range for the state, “which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that Georgia is the last in the U.S., and the U.S. is 10th in the world.”
He talked about the problems dropouts encounter including a likelihood of depending on government assistance and to end up incarcerated.
In 2007, Harless spoke at an “Entrepreneur Prosperity Series” program sponsored by the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce.
“Entrepreneurs seem to be people who don’t have a real job,” Harless said with a laugh. “I haven’t had a salary since Piggly Wiggly when I was a cashier in high school and for a short time when I worked with a management consulting firm in New York.”
Harless said entrepreneurs need to find their passion and pursue it.
He also told the chamber members about the importance of goals. “If you don’t know where you want to end up, then any road will take you there,” he said. “Your end goals will tell about the process you use to achieve it.”
Hayden recalled Harless’s involvement in the local Commission for Higher Education. The commission, formed in 2003, grew from a vision by the late Dr. Starr Miller, a college president who retired to Newnan, and a needs assessment by Harless.
CFHE sought to link all higher education institutions in the county together to focus on the specific needs of the community. “It was important because we have so many post-secondary educational options here,” Hayden said.
CFHE’s goal was to bring all those entities together “to share resources, to find new solutions to meeting student needs,” Hayden said. She said the CFHE in some ways grew out of the connections that already existed at CEC.
Harless’s survey showed there was a need for medical personnel of various types, for teachers and for business people with advanced education. All three were addressed by educational institutions.
As an example, Hayden pointed to the University of West Georgia starting “that nursing program from infancy that’s outgrown itself.”
Harless wrote 22 nonfiction books. The PhD’s biggest selling book ws “Turning Kids On and Off,” published in the 1970s.
Other books by Harless included “Objective Objectives,” 1971; “Analyzing Human Performance: Tools for achieving business results,” 1992; and “The Eden Conspiracy: Educating for Accomplished Citizenship,” 1998.
When Harless decided to try fiction, he was delighted with the response to “Black Warrior’s Curse” – particularly the sale of the movie rights.
“I’d been thinking about this project just about all my adult life,” Harless said. “I always thought it would make a good story. I’m glad someone else did, too.”
Harless was an upbeat person who generally had several projects going at once. Hayden said he had a “quiet way” of leading, but he could be both persistent and persuasive.
Often, Harless “worked behind the scenes – talking with people, getting them to buy into” the concept of a new project, Hayden said.
“Some think success is based on luck. But it’s my theory that the harder and smarter some people work, the luckier they become,” Harless said.
He had a hearty laugh and enjoyed conversation on a wide range of topics.
Generally courtly, Harless could also offer his unvarnished take on a situation or concept. “He was an invaluable resource,” Brooks said.
“He was the type of guy I could run something by and he would give me an honest answer,” Brooks said. “He wouldn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear.”
Among Joe Harless's words of wisdom:
• "It takes marketing to cause the phone to ring."
• "A business plan is vital to success – and melts the icy heart of a banker, somewhat."
• "Analysis and design is worth a pound of brainstorming."
• "Find your passion, get good at it, develop a business plan and know you'll get rich slowly."
• "Entrepreneurship is a case for the tortoise and not the hare."