Gina Harris.jpeg


candidate for 2019 District 200 School Board

1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 200?

As a graduate of OPRFHS with a daughter who just graduated last year I got engaged with the Culture Climate and Behavior committee because I wanted to support students voices in being heard. Not only that but I felt like it was important to be engaged in ways that are productive. I was so glad that there was union/faculty representation on the committee. For me it is important that everyone have a space at the table and that their voice is heard and that is why I am running. I feel that I bring a perspective, as an educator, that none of the other candidates have and we have been working across the country to ensure that educator voices are at the table.

2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?

An effective school board member encompasses the experience, knowledge and skills of not only what happens in a school but how each of the parts in the system interact to create the best learning environment possible. Effective school members can address and provide solutions along a range of topics in education including but not limited too policy, finance and equity. Lastly, an effective school board member is able to communicate with the various stakeholders in a district in ways that build collaboration, trust and cohesiveness.

3. What is your understanding of the purpose of the District 200 Board? What do you see as the appropriate relationship between the School Board, District staff, and Oak Park River Forest High School itself?

I feel that as a board member my main role is one of support for all of the people working and learning in the high school. Specifically, the role of the board member is to guide, maintain and oversee the resources of the district while ensuring all is being done for the best outcomes for our students. But specific to faculty and staff, I feel that that board members need to understand what it means to work in a classroom, the lunchroom, and within the building, be able to listen to the challenges being faced, and work collaboratively to support what is needed for change. Board members are ineffective when they are disconnected from the staff and faculty. The Board has a more direct connection to administration as the body that holds them accountable for their actions so I feel it’s important for us to have good oversight into their actions and how their actions impact the staff and faculty. Most importantly, I feel that there needs to be a relationship between the school board, district and the school itself that fosters respect, trust and collaboration.

4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?

I have had to balance competing interests in my role as a manager in a union hotel where I worked to ensure that we maintained a quality staff while still managing our budget. As it pertains to education, as a member of our negotiations team in my local we worked to balance the interests of both our members, the district and the community at large. The process that we used was Interest based bargaining. I did not include the term competing interests because in my experience each area of interest duing the bargaining conversations were not competing against one another. We took a more holistic view of the needs of the students, staff, infrastructure and finances and really came to a balance of what would work best within the framework we had for the most financially sound decisions. What I learned was just that. Our interests need not be competing but complementing when we begin to understand the why behind each of our needs.

5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?

Transparency in government means ensuring that constituents have access to the most accurate, up to date information as it pertains to how their funds, time and resources are being used. I personally put this into practice by sharing information but more importantly by ensuring that the issues of each group are represented in the conversation to begin with.

6. As more of our local discourse happens in social media, what is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents? How will you engage with the breadth of the community, and not just the voices that are loudest or easiest to find?

Social media is and can be a great tool but it can also be what we know is an “echo chamber” where individuals use the anonymity factor to sound off in situations that may create more conflict. I feel that elected officials need to use social media as a tool of keeping communication lines open with all constituents including the ones who seem to disagree with you. Currently I have friends in my social media feeds who have very different world views than I. Rather than deleting these opinions I make it a practice to listen and ask questions. I may never fully agree with everything that everyone says but I am always interested in seeking understanding. I fell that as an elected official it is my job to reach out those who are harder to reach, to find our what are the best methods of communication to them and make outreach in those ways. What I know is we cannot grow without the involvement of all.

7. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group (specifically the demographic groups of race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status)?

I have facilitated and spent time in community circles, engaged in dialogue and sought out diverse groups to gain deeper understanding across lines of perceived difference. In many instances I have asked people directly what their needs and concerns are and will continue to do that.

8. What have been your most useful sources of information about secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?

Some of my most useful sources of information about secondary education have been in speaking with the students directly. They have a clear perspective on the experience of moving through our educational system and can inform us of blind spots we may miss. Some of the research that I have found very informative has included the work of Derald Wing Sue on Racial Justice, Florence Fay Pritchard and George. Whitehead III on Service Learning and the work of Harbison Pool and Jane A. Page on tracking and inclusion based schools. Additionally the work of Heather Strang on Restorative Justice in schools has also been informative.

9. Why have property taxes assessed by the District increased so substantially over the past 10-15 years? Can the District continue without additional tax increases? How?

There are a number of reasons property taxes have increased over the years and the District is not the only component to be considered when looking at property tax increases. We need to look at the overall financial picture of the villages and their relative taxing bodies. I am not clear that the District can continue without additional tax increases but by evaluating our finances through the lens of necessity I feel that we can contribute to minimizing the tax burden.

10. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with the need to create an equitable environment for all students?

This balance is going to be a main focus of our village residents and therefore needs to be a main focus for the board. Balance in this area will only be possible if we begin to look at all the ways that we may be underutilizing resources we currently have access to, such as internal professional development opportunities and grant funding. Creating an equitable environment requires solid racial equity policy and resources to back it up. It will also require looking into the culture and climate of the District as we have been doing on the Culture Climate and Behavior committee. We need to explore more ways to fund our school equitably and sustainably with local, state and federal dollars. And we need to be frugal and equitable with all expenditures. With our contracting and procurement, we also need to be sure that we are prioritizing and incentivizing businesses that are local and owned by people of color and women.

11. How do you define equity? Do you favor implementing a formal equity lens/framework at District 200, and if so, what specifics should it include? How have you engaged with efforts by the community to push for a comprehensive equity policy?

Equity is unrestricted opportunity for all. I favor implementing a formal equity framework and lens and have supported the efforts of our community partners who have put forth racial equity policy drafts that will drive the changes that we need. We need a clear policy framework that focuses on racial equity and systems change. There are many levels to racism—at the individual and interpersonal level and at the institutional and structural level—all of which make up a system of inequity. We can address race prominently, but also inclusively and intersectionality, because race is often compounded by other kinds of inequities. We need to build a system based on equity. We need a strong policy that provides an overarching framework and infrastructure to create successful and sustainable systems change. This will involve using Racial Equity Impacts Assessments for all kinds of decisions—planning, hiring, budgeting, curriculum, school climate, contracting and procurement—in every realm of our operations. We need Racial Equity Action Plans that are implemented with accountability. We need a top-level Assistant Superintendent of Equity to help drive needed change and bring it to scale across the institution. And we need robust stakeholder engagement--with student voices well represented—at every step of the way. If equity, along with excellence, is truly our school district’s mission—then investing deeply in equity is mission-critical work. Let’s make that investment an do the real work that it takes. Let’s be united by race, instead of divided by race.

12. The incoming board will be responsible for deciding which elements of the Imagine Plan, if any, to act upon. What factors will inform your decisions about whether and when to move forward with the various components of the plan? How will you prioritize these factors?

The main factors that will inform my decision about whether and when to move forward with the various components of the plan are necessity and financial feasibility. We need to zero in our highest priorities. First and foremost, we have to absolutely ensure that our facilities are safe and accessible for all. For programmatic enrichments, we need to use the values of excellence, equity and stewardship to guide our decision-making. For future planning and prioritizing, it’s fine to imagine and dream big, but at the same time, we have to stay grounded and be mindful of the price tag. We are stewards of our facilities, our taxpayers’ dollars, and of our students’ futures. If we apply our values to our budgetary decisions, we can do what’s best for our entire community. As one who has experience applying values to large budgets, I am ready to make the tough and thoughtful decision we need to move us forward together.

13. America to Me focused national attention on Oak Park River Forest High School, and in particular on issues of race, equity, and the opportunity gap. How do you expect that will affect your tenure on the Board?

I think that my tenure on the Board extends beyond even what we saw in the America to Me Series. As part of the core team that crafted the community conversations following each episode I was thrilled to see our community talk openly and candidly about race and equity at the high school. The series did not make me aware of anything new, but did highlight what similar experiences I had as well as my daughter. My role on the board will be to work with our board, the students, educators, staff and administration to rewrite the narrative for our students of color in our community. Our students experiences in America to Me will definitely impact my tenure as I work with my fellow board members to enact policy that closes the opportunity gap and changes not only the narrative our students of color spoke about but creates a deeper level of understanding and community across the color lines established at OPRFHS.

14. District 200 makes use of some restorative practices through the Courageous Conversations program. In your view, has this initiative been successful? Do you see additional opportunities to employ restorative justice practices in the District?

As a restorative practices facilitator I feel that the current program of restorative practices in D200 are lacking and it is an issue I have pressed on since I became a member of the Culture, Climate and Behavior committee. I was encouraged last year with the addition of Umoja and the training of the staff that is being done. Restorative practices in schools is not a program or a curriculum, it is a culture. In order to shift the culture of an institution you have to be willing to look at what is not working and become flexible and willing to change. My experience with educators and administrators in districts that are working to successfully shift from a punitive culture to a restorative culture has shown that there is a high amount of willingness on the part of the educators. Providing the proper training pacing and true understanding of what restorative practices are will be the critical factor for its success in D200.

15. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.

Currently my three largest donors are:
Libbey Paul $125
Percy Harrison $100
Stacy Austin $75

It is still early in the campaign and we anticipate future donors of varying amounts.

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[The above answers were supplied on 2/13/19. It may be possible to find more current financial information at the Illinois Sunshine website. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]