Nancy Harris, the Westport school district's assistant superintendent for business, will retire at the end of the current school year, culminating a 13-year tenure during which she oversaw some of the most significant education capital projects in the town's history.

In an interview Tuesday with the Westport News, Harris attributed her decision partly to reflection prompted by the recent loss of a close friend, who died of cancer, and to her 65th birthday last month.

"I turned 65 and lost a good friend and really did some soul-searching and decided that I've done a tremendous amount in terms of updating systems, creating systems, overseeing major build-outs, renovations and all of those kinds of things," she said.

"I thought it was time to make something other than the Westport public schools my No. 1 priority. You can't do a job like this, unless it's your No. 1 priority."

After she steps down as Westport's assistant superintendent for business on June 30, Harris said she will explore other opportunities in the education field.

Those options could include teaching, project consulting or serving as an interim assistant superintendent in another school district.

"This is still pretty new for me too," Harris said.

"It's also one of those things that's a very, very hard decision. I've been so fortunate to work with an incredible team of people here in Westport and so leaving that is pretty gut-wrenching."

Harris is the town's second-highest-ranking education administrator after Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon.

As the school district's chief operating officer, her responsibilities include budget development and management, purchasing and payments, payroll, transportation, school cafeterias, student activities, facilities and adult and continuing education.

"We are grateful to Nancy Harris for her dedication, professionalism, and many contributions to the Westport Public Schools throughout the past 13 years and we wish her the very best," said Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney.

"Over the years, Nancy has implemented a steady stream of improvements to the efficiency of our business operations, allowing us to focus our resources on areas with the greatest educational impact."

Landon also praised Harris' service to the school district.

"Nancy has served the Westport Public Schools with incredible dedication and commitment for the past 13 years," he said in an email to school district staff.

During Harris' tenure, the Westport school district has experienced major changes in its infrastructure. Since she arrived in October 2000, she has overseen the construction of Bedford Middle School, the expansion of Staples High School, the repurposing of the old Bedford Middle School into the current Saugatuck Elementary School, the installation of a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system at Kings Highway School and the refurbishment of Long Lots Elementary School.

"The breadth and depth of knowledge Ms. Harris has of every aspect of our district is extraordinary," said Ginny McGovern, co-president of the Westport Parent Teacher Association Council.

"In these difficult budget cycles she has gone back, re-examined, and presented the level of detail required to maintain the standards of our high performing school system -- always prioritizing programs and student health and safety."

Harris also oversaw the implementation starting in 2002 of buzzers and card-swipe systems at key perimeter doors at all of the town's public schools.

In addition, Harris has spearheaded the creation of a number of information-technology systems for operations such as school purchases, student activities and school cafeterias.

Before she came to Westport, Harris already had extensive experience as an education administrator.

She has served as an assistant superintendent for business in the Milford and Hartford school districts, director of business services in the East Hartford school district, assistant superintendent in the state's vocational-technical school system and chief of the state Department of Education's grants-processing bureau.

She also taught accounting and information systems in her home state at Rhode Island College in Providence.; 203-255-4561, ext. 118;