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SCHOOLS COLUMN: Board member Harris would like to see after-school programs to help all children flourish

Having living in Richmond most of his life, George Harris III was already familiar with the West Contra Costa Unified School District. He’s gotten an even closer look over the last two years while serving on the school board, the past year as its president.

“The happiest times I’ve spent on the school board have been seeing kids interacting with teachers, going to assemblies, the little things.”

He’s explored schools and neighborhoods he’d never visited before, and heard from a lot of people.

So what has he learned?

“We have a large, complex, over-worked, under-staffed, highly bureaucratic organization. It’s the most complex organization I’ve ever been involved in.”

There is a richness of opportunity in a large district, a chance to learn from one another. But it also means tackling problems is seldom simple. It's often difficult to see the impact board policies have on children’s education. Even getting a discussion going on an idea, like making kindergarten full day or providing more uniform instruction district-wide, can be a challenge.

Still, Harris, who has three years left on his current term, is optimistic.

"By the time I leave, I would like to see us have a comprehensive after-school program at every school in the district."

At the elementary schools, he says, those programs should have the same elements as the Back to School Celebration he has spearheaded the past two years, an event that he looks back on as one of the successes of his term thus far. He envisions after-school programs encompassing health, academics, recreation and the arts. With the support of the trade unions, high schools might have apprentice programs, offering students a chance to learn skills and good work habits.

Harris says everyone uses phrases like “No child left behind" but the reality is all children don't have the same opportunities. Some start with advantages such as two college-educated parents, then head off to a school where the parents' group has the wherewithal to provide extras like a science teacher and after-school classes.

"It's really about equity, providing the minimum level of services for every child to flourish."

And what about money, which always seems to be an issue in our district? Harris says it's just a matter of what people choose to spend money on.

"The real obstacle, here or anywhere, is people's will. If they want it to happen, it will happen. If they don't want it, it won't happen.”

And how do you change people's minds, when they're in the habit of spending their money elsewhere, perhaps for private school or to raise money for their own children’s public school, but are guarded about taxing themselves to provide for the needs of a district full of kids?

Harris says you start by sharing with them the vision of the rich experiences children could have -- and do have in some districts -- and the statistics showing that from 3 and 6 pm is the most dangerous time for children.

"We have to work on changing the hearts and minds of people, and raising the level of expectation they have for their community, and instilling pride."

"Do we want a school district, and by extension a community, that we are proud of or do we not?”

This column was written by Wire editor Betty King Buginas for the West County Weekly, an insert in the West County Times, and appeared in that publication Jan. 4.


Run dates: 2002-01-04 - 2002-01-18
 


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