Gina Harris

Candidate for District 200 school board

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Age: 49 

Previous elected experience: No previously held office 

Previous community experience: Culture Climate and Behavior Committee, America To Me Circle Coordinator, Mentoring in various capacities, Circle Facilitator

Occupation: Educator
 
Education: MBA, Master of Teaching, Internationally certified Yoga instructor RYT-200

Do you believe that race is the primary predictor of student outcomes in District 200? Please expound.

I believe that race is a strong predictor of students outcomes in District 200 as we have seen in the data across subjects, content and achievement.  I do believe that students, given the right supports and opportunities, can and do succeed at OPRFHS but that is not without overcoming hurdles.   The example that I like to share on this is that when my daughter was a freshman she was not offered any advanced placement courses although her friend who is white was encouraged to take those courses right away.  They both had similar GPA's and test scores.   We have to begin to actively pursue ensuring that our students of color are being offered the same opportunities and we do that through a sound Racial Equity Policy as well as professional development for educators on bias and culture. 

It is likely that if you're elected to the board, you'll have a hand in drafting the district's racial equity policy. What are your thoughts on a racial equity policy? Do you believe that it is necessary to ensure that race is not a predictor of student outcomes (assuming you believe this is the case)? And if so, how would you ensure that the racial equity policy is effectively implemented?

Equity is unrestricted opportunity for all I do believe that it is necessary to ensure that race is not a predictor of students outcomes.   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.

Do you believe that athletics and PE facilities are critical aspects of the overall student experience at OPRF?

I do believe that athletics and PE facilities are critical aspects of the overall student experience at OPRF.  We know that students who are engaged in sports and extracurricular activities are more invested in their studies.  We also know that sports builds character, teamwork and unity in ways that our community needs by crossing perceived color lines.   I feel that a sound, long term plan for looking at how our facilities can best serve are students will be an important responsibility for our board.  I do favor us looking at partnership opportunities with the Park District or other village entities and we work to break down silos in our community and maximize our efforts for our students while also being mindful and responsible fiscally.   I know it is possible for us to do both. 

What are your thoughts on the recent Imagine OPRF master facilities plan that the D200 board accepted last year? Do you believe that it adequately addresses students' needs?

I support the decision that board has made to move forward with the facilities portion of the Imagine Plan.  I also feel that the work that our community members put into the plan was time well spent as it was thorough and will lend to us making sound financial decisions moving forward.  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. I do believe the plan does address student needs but would like to extend the work further in regards to equity.   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.

Do you believe that the D200 school board is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars? If so, in what ways? If you don't believe this, what changes will you advocate on the board to make it so?

I do believe that the board has made decisions that they felt were financially responsible to the best of their abilities with the information they had at the time.   I believe what I bring to the team that is missing is the ability to create structures and systems in collaboration with the faculty and staff that allows for more input and growth as well as real world, practical applications of the financial decisions being made. 

Do you believe that the D200 board adequately incorporates the voices of people most likely to be impacted by its decisions (i.e., students, teachers, faculty and staff) into its decision-making process? If not, what are some ways that the board can more adequately incorporate these voices into its decision-making process?

I believe that board has made progress in incorporating the voices of the people most likely to be impacted but part of the reason why I chose to run is the our board currently does not have an eductor represented.  As a teacher I know what ideas will work and where our challenges lie in changing a very ingrained system.   In order to have systems change we need input from people within the system.   As a board member I would advocate for more educator voice in our decision making as well as more input from all of the people working in our school including security staff and the various administrative assistant roles.  Each person in the building has the vantage of experience with the students from varying viewpoints and I would love to see us include them in the conversation more.

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