Adrian F. Harris cried when he thought about all the work he put into helping his son succeed in high school.
But it was all worth it, he said, because, in the end, it is parents – not teachers or school districts – who need to be held accountable for the education of children.
That belief has shaped Harris, 50, and his agenda for improving the Buffalo Public Schools as he runs for the Board of Education, which has three at-large seats at stake for five-year terms in the May 6 elections.
“Not being validated as a parent is one of the worst things that can happen to you,” said Harris, a South Buffalo resident who works as a teacher’s assistant in Lancaster.
According to Harris, the keys to school improvement are more cooperation, more shared accountability and more funding from the city. Bringing parents, teachers, administrators and elected leaders together to find solutions is more important than criticism and finger-pointing, he said.
He points to the Cincinnati School District as one that brought people together in teams and fostered communication, which he said yielded higher test scores and graduation rates.
“In Buffalo, we don’t have that,” Harris said.
Instead, he said, the board attracts politicians, businesspeople and others with their own agendas and power struggles. That’s not the way it should be, he said, because board members should focus on “true issues.”
“If people want to be very divisive and stick to their own agendas, then I’m just going to call them out on that,” he said. “I’m only going to gravitate toward people who want to forward academic achievement, because that’s the real problem.”
Harris, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Carl P. Paladino for the Park District seat last year, has never been a fan of Superintendent Pamela C. Brown. He said he believes that she should be fired and that the board shouldn’t look at a “racial angle” in choosing the most competent successor.
He takes an equally dim view of the leadership of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the school district’s official parent group, the District Parent Coordinating Council, which he views as self-serving and divisive.
The divorced father of three has worked as a teacher’s assistant at Lancaster High School since 2006. He has two 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 in Buffalo.
Harris does not believe that Buffalo should support more charter schools but thinks that the district should extend the school day and the school year. He also has been critical of the state’s rollout of the Common Core learning standards and thinks that the state Education Department’s interventions in the city school district have caused more harm than good.
If elected to the board, Harris said, he intends to promote a system of shared responsibility for identifying problems and finding solutions, promote more career and technical education courses for students, and promote being fiscally responsible to taxpayers.
Harris has an associate’s degree from Erie Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Brockport State College, both in criminal justice. Six years ago, he earned a master’s degree in special education through an online program at Grand Canyon University.
Prior to working in Lancaster, Harris worked in many capacities with children, including as a teacher’s aide at the Stanley G. Falk School; a recreation specialist and residential trainer at Heritage Centers, which provide programs for the developmentally disabled; and as assistant athletic director for the Fresh Air Fund, which gives New York City children a summer experience away from their urban environment.
Last year, Harris accepted help from New York State United Teachers to promote his campaign. He felt “really used” by the experience and is campaigning this year as an independent. He circulated his petitions with family and friends.
“Last year, I did it really wrong,” Harris said.
He does believe, however, that settling union contracts is important to the district’s bottom line.