Adrian F. Harris says the Buffalo Public Schools face shared problems, so there must be shared solutions – and he believes he is the right person to help Board of Education members work together to move the district forward.
“I think there’s too much divisiveness,” he said. “I don’t think there are enough people working together. I’ve always said I’ll work with anyone on the School Board.”
He decided to run for the board well before his well-known opponent announced his candidacy, he said.
The father of three has two younger children who live with their mother and attend public elementary school in the City of Tonawanda and a teenage son who attends South Park High School, one of the lowest-performing schools in the district.
Harris does not support Superintendent Pamela C. Brown – he said he never thought she was qualified for the job. But he says he has been impressed with the teachers and administrators at South Park, describing many of them as better than some of the staff at Canisius High School, which his son attended for a while.
The problems at South Park are not the fault of the staff, he said, but the result of challenges facing the students, many of whom live in poverty.
As a South Park parent, Harris says he brings a different perspective.
“I have a working knowledge of the public school system and its challenges,” he said.
One of the greatest challenges is finding a way to increase attendance, Harris said. He would like the district to identify students who are chronically absent and hire attendance teachers and other staff to work with those students and their families.
“Funding will be needed, but having more students attending school each day will increase academic achievement, and I’m sure that’s what all members of the School Board want,” he said.
He believes returning to neighborhood schools would help address some of the attendance problems.
His priorities for the district also include expanding vocational offerings and negotiating a new contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
“I feel this would create a positive improvement in the school environment, where teachers would feel respected and appreciated,” he said. “This, I feel, would flow down to their students and other school personnel.”
Harris does not support an increase in local charter schools. Some local charters have been successful, he said, but he is concerned that charters send their problem students back to district schools.
Harris works as a teacher’s aide at Lancaster High School and as a child-care therapy aide for Child & Family Services, positions he has held for several years.
Harris has an associate’s degree from Erie Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Brockport State College, both in criminal justice. Five years ago, he earned a master’s degree in special education through an online program at Grand Canyon University.
Harris, 49, has spent much of his adult life working with children in various capacities, including as a teacher’s aide at the Stanley G. Falk School; recreation specialist and residential trainer at Heritage Centers, which provide programs for the developmentally disabled; and assistant athletic director for the Fresh Air Fund, which gives New York City children a summer experience away from their urban environment.
“I have a long history of working with children in all ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds,” he said.
Harris has sought the support of some incumbent board members, including Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Rosalyn L. Taylor and Sharon Belton-Cottman.
He describes himself as an independent candidate who is not seeking the backing of any interest groups. New York State United Teachers, in a recent letter to its members living in Buffalo, urged them to vote for five NYSUT-endorsed candidates in the city, along with Harris. He is not technically endorsed by the union, but voting for him was described by NYSUT in the letter as “a good idea.”
At the beginning of his campaign, Harris said he planned to circulate his nominating petitions himself – but several organizers from NYSUT and groups affiliated with the union collected signatures for him.
He says he accepted the union’s help so that he had more time to talk to voters but adds that he did not make the union any promises.
“I will not be tied to any group,” he said.