Adrian Harris is a passionate advocate for public education and a well reasoned critic of the school board’s majority bloc led by Carl Paladino. He is a professional educator with the Lancaster School District and holds a Masters Degree in Special Education.
He is running for the school board’s West District seat currently held by Board President James Samspon, a somewhat-estranged former ally of Carl Paladino. Jennifer Mecozzi, an organizer with PUSH, which many observers call a leftist front group, is being backed by the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation and NYSUT political operative Mike Deely. The teachers’ unions plan on spending heavily on the race, which was won by the incumbent with fewer than 500 votes.
While Harris received the endorsement of teachers’ in the past, he said the experience left him “feeling used.” Many operatives insist that Deely is either incompetent or working for Paladino — especially in light of Deely’s continued backing of Senator Marc Panepinto, who was convicted of election fraud.
Harris is committing to be an independent member of the board, aligned with neither the reform or union factions of the board — which could produce a plurality that unsettles the balance of power in the billion dollar district.
1. What inspires you to get involved with the Buffalo school board?
I’m someone who truly believes that when regular individuals get involved in the process of public education there will be greater success within that public school district. I’m not trying to use this as political stepping stone, wanting to be a judge or a councilman. I don’t have a political or ideological agenda that’s divisive and destructive. I’ve worked with at risk youth for 30 years in capacities developing and implementing educational programming.
I have a depth of understanding of the students who have the most challenging academic needs and how to work with them to obtain academic success. I also have a son who attended a Buffalo public high school and two others that are in public education. I’m a longtime resident of the City of Buffalo. I work in public education. I am invested in public education and its success.
2. In an ideal world, what does that education system look like and how is it different than the one we have today?
My ideal education system for the City of Buffalo is one that would have multiple pathways for student success, that way students will be more engaged with their academic curriculum and their school. At the elementary level they would provide more cultural and social enrichment, with increased recreation time. The school day would be longer; but this extra time would be enrichment based, and at the beginning of the day at first to see if that would improve attendance.
At the high school level there would be schools dedicated to a specific academic pathway, whether it is college prep or career & technical education. A student would never graduate with a simple high school diploma, they would be either deemed college ready with advanced regents diploma or have trade specific diploma that might require some advanced training. Also educators would be given a greater say in the curriculum and evaluation of students and parents would be required to volunteer a certain amount of hours each year in their child’s school. The system would also be appropriately and consistently funded by the federal government, state and city.
That system totally differs from the present one because the state, federal government and city have failed to fund the Buffalo Public Schools appropriately, and a lack of consistent funding doesn’t allow for consistency in terms of what a school district can offer its students. That lack of consistency doesn’t allow for academic success and actually eliminates it. A case in point the Buffalo Public Schools Magnet School system of the 80’s; a world recognized education system, gutted by funding cuts on levels of government and know only a few remain.
3. If you’re elected to the school board, what will be you top priority?
My top priority for the school board has always been for the school board to first come together, and craft a common vision that encompasses all stakeholders that will be the blueprint for moving this district forward. I believe I can do that because there are individuals on the board that aren’t caught up in personal conflicts; with them there would be an almost 100% participation in crafting this statement, and the others I believe would have no choice but to fall in line with the public pressure to work collaboratively.
4. What are voters and parents saying about their view of the school board?
Parents and voters that are involved feel the same way: they are sick of the dysfunction and the personal conflicts within the school board because they know it has had negative impacts on the operations and reputation of the school district. They also see a board that is not responsive to their needs and are only interested in pushing an agenda that supports a personal interest.
5. Do you support the agenda being advanced by Superintendent Kriner Cash?
It’s hard for me to support his agenda because it’s based on the presumption that poverty isn’t a deterrent to academic success. When the effects of poverty can lessen the IQ by as much as 13 points and reduce an individual’s cognitive ability, how can anyone say that poverty doesn’t matter? And remember that’s just the cognitive effects, there are also the social and emotional deficits that poverty can cause. All these are deterrents to academic success.
Cash has failed to provide leadership on the teachers’ contract negotiations. He has given his administrators huge raises, while the teachers are still without a contract. He’s also asking for a lot that can’t be paid for so other areas will be cut for his agenda items. It continues the vicious cycle of grandiose ideas that are funded at first and then eliminated due to lack of funding, creating further decline.
6. What are your thoughts on the controversial board member Carl Paladino?
On Mr. Paladino my thoughts are the same as three years ago when I told him to his face that he’s an exaggerator and an opportunist, and his actions within the board have shown that. His creating constant leadership changes at superintendent, personal attacks on board members and staff, and failed vision have all been huge detriments to the school district, confirming my opinions. But I will give him credit for the his actions in terms of his investigation into the Buffalo Public Schools’ one billion dollars in school reconstruction projects and the possibility of improprieties by the contractor. If he hits a home run with this one — and works with all board members in the next school board cycle — it would go a long way in reversing that opinion.