D97 candidate wants to ease district's equity issues

Grant says engineering psychology experience translates to school board

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

A user-experience designer and mother of three said she's running for the District 97 Board of Education so she can bring her professional experience, optimizing products and services to satisfy customers, to bear on advancing equity for all students in the district. 

During a recent interview, Barika Grant said she would place particular emphasis on one aspect of equity in the district: Access to prekindergarten.

"I'm a huge proponent of universal Pre-K," she said. "I think it's really great, but I don't think everyone who needs services gets them, and it's strictly due to funding and budgeting. So I want to look at how we can get more funding and be able to support more students who need the program."

Grant, who has two young children in D97 schools, along with a 6-month-old, said the district nevertheless needs to rein in spending. 

"That we keep passing more and more money is also a concern of mine, and I want to keep the budget in line with what taxpayers want to see," she said. "The referendum has passed. I'd hope and expect that, in the next four years if I'm serving, we don't pass another referendum. We don't need to keep going back to taxpayers asking for more money." 

 Grant, who moved to Oak Park from the East Coast nearly four years ago, said she would also work to enhance the district's communication capabilities, particularly when relating details about the recent racial equity policy, which the board passed unanimously last week. 

In addition to the draft policy, D97 officials also released a memo detailing additional hires, programs and other measures that might need to be made in order to successfully implement the policy. The memo, many parent leaders said, seemed to put the cart before the horse, arguing that issues of implementation should have been addressed only after an extensive needs assessment and a thorough process of gathering stakeholder feedback were implemented. 

Grant, who is a member of the Longfellow Diversity Committee, said she was "disappointed with the memo" and felt it reflected a "failure in communication." Going forward, she said, the district should "get everyone involved" in the process of communicating such important policy decisions.

She's also concerned about the discipline disparity in D97, with black students getting disciplined at much higher rates than white students. 

"These students are losing teaching time; they're in the principal's office instead of in class and they're losing knowledge. We talk about the opportunity gap. A lot of this is interrelated. You're moving these kids out of the classroom, they're getting less time, and they're socially isolated. People just look at a child who got in trouble without thinking about the problem holistically."  

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate said she would leverage her professional expertise in engineering psychology (making websites and software programs more user-friendly) toward helping bring about more equitable outcomes within the district.

"What I do in my professional life translates to the board because I interview multiple constituencies and stakeholders and have to craft a solution that supports a lot of different viewpoints," she said. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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