Gray Harris is a mom, a teacher and an education advocate. She is an appointed incumbent. You can find more about her at www.votegrayharris.com
1 – What are the biggest challenges facing your School District and how will you tackle them?
We have a funding problem for education in California. Lack of funding creates a challenge to providing the services that all of our students need, and to providing a living wage to our educators. I engaged in the Proposition 30 campaign several years ago, creating the Local Control Funding Formula which has restored our funding to 2008 levels. I am currently involved in the Proposition 55 campaign to extend the funding that was created by Prop 30. Locally I am working on the renewal of our parcel tax which brings $12 million annually into the school district budget. I am also spearheading a project to use an existing historical building for affordable employee housing to attract teachers and other employees to our school district. I advocated for creating a committee of teachers, district, and other employees to come together on a long term solution to the issue of low pay in AUSD, and I look forward to that committee beginning work this school year. I hope that with affordable housing, and a long term solution to low pay, we will be able to continue to employee excellent educators in Alameda even during the current statewide teacher shortage.
Equity in Alameda is another challenge. We currently have a disparity between the East End and West End of our island. Equity means providing our students with the resources they need in order to be successful and on the West End we currently do not have a middle school operated by the school district. I have fought to keep our buildings for our programs, rather than give them to charter schools, so that we can offer opportunities to every student across the island. I will continue to advocate for a West End middle school as well as equitable programming at our comprehensive high schools.
2 – Do you believe there are systemic problems with racial/sexual/gender-based or other discrimination in your district’s schools? How would you tackle them?
I believe that all schools have systematic issues with discrimination. This is a topic that we must continue to grapple with even when issues are not on the surface. One step we have taken in AUSD is to create round tables for our LGBT communities. We have launched an “everyone belongs here” campaign where our employees and families are trained on creating inclusive environments and ensuring that our students feel safe in their classrooms. In addition, I believe that we must continue to expand our career pathway development so that our students can graduate not only college ready, but also ready for a career that inspires them. The more we can innovate and move away from a one size fits all model, the better we do for our young people every day.
3 – Do you believe the school-to-prison pipeline is operational in your School District and what will you do to close it down?
I believe that like issues of discrimination, the school-to-prison pipeline is an ever present concern that we cannot take lightly or disregard. However, I believe that AUSD has a strong program for students to recover credits and receive the assistance they need in order to be successful. I am a champion of our Adult School and fought to keep space for the program when there was a chance the rooms would be absorbed by a charter school. I am an advocate for continuing to expand support programs like the adult school, as well as our credit recovery high school (Island). I am also advocating for the expansion of our early childhood programs so that every student can attend preschool and come to AUSD ready for K-12 instruction. We must also continue to rebuild our career pathway programs. It is vital for young people to learn life skills at school in addition to academic content so that they can be successful community members and truly participate in our society even after they leave AUSD.
4 – Do you support having police officers on campus? If so, in what capacity?
I support having police officers that are part of the school community. When I taught 5th grade, I worked with the DARE program and saw that my students responded well to learning from police officers in their classrooms. I would also support a public safety career pathway to assist young people with job training. However, I do not feel that police officers should be on campus to arrest students unless there is a serious safety concern that cannot be resolved in any other way. In Alameda we are having success using the restorative justice model as well as positive behavioral interventions rather than using police officers.
5 – What limits to students’ freedom of expression and privacy do you think are appropriate for public schools?
I believe that every person should be free to express themselves. However, I also believe that students and teachers have the right to be safe at school. In my work as a classroom teacher, AUSD parent and for the California Teachers Association I have dealt daily with issues of discrimination and/or harassment that should not happen at school. I have found that settling disputes on a case by case basis works better than making blanket rules for everyone. Teachers should not be harassed in their work place and students should not be harassed in their learning environments, but as long as freedom of expression does not create an unsafe (physically or mentally) environment, then it should be protected.
6 – What do you think the School District should do to offer support to homeless, foster and impoverished children and children coming from violent homes?
I am a proponent of wraparound services at school to make the school as much a part of the community as possible. In Alameda we work closely with Alameda Family Services to provide support for students and families who are dealing with challenges. We also provide parent support groups and counseling. As I explained earlier in this questionnaire, I believe the charge of the School District is to provide each student with the resources they need to be successful. One program I am advocating for expanding is our early childhood program, so that families who cannot afford preschool can still get their kids the foundation they need to succeed.
7 – Given the explosion of autism diagnoses, what is your plan to make sure children and their parents are getting the proper support?
I regularly attend the Special Education Parent Support Group that was founded several years ago by some AUSD parents of students with special needs. The group brings resources and education for parents in the school district. I am also an advocate of training for teachers on the best strategies for educating diverse classrooms of students. The more we train our teachers to be the best educators they can be, the better for all of our students. As a teacher, I know first-hand the benefit of specialized training and what it can bring to every student in the classroom.
8 – What should the District do to tackle problems of truancy?
Parent education on the effects of truancy not only for the student, but also for the rest of the class, school, and district is helpful to some extent. We have had some success in AUSD with awards and recognition for those who have appropriate attendance. For those who are chronically truant, we need to find the root case and help provide support to the family and student to increase attendance.
9 – Are you running as a Berniecrat?
I agree with much of Bernie’s platform. However I would not categorize myself as a Berniecrat.