Oswego Election 2015: Kevin Harris, Candidate for School District 308 Board
Name: Kevin Harris
Employment: General Manager, BP Facilities - Employer: BP; Entrepreneur, Leadership coaching & training – Business Name: Bedrock Assets
Family: Married with 4 children
Education: Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Previously elected office: None
Relevant community service: Scoutmaster, Boy Scouts of America (former Cub Master), 308 District Strategic Planning Committee, Junior Achievement Teacher (Elementary & Jr. High), Naperville Rotary Club, Naperville Chamber of Commerce
What makes you qualified to serve on the School District 308 School Board?I have an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and I have graduate degrees in both engineering and business. As a result, I’ve developed critical thinking skills that I use to make difficult decisions. I’ve led large and small teams of people and traveled to over 20 countries on 5 continents, which has given me perspective and diversity of thought.
I’ve also led non-profit and government organizations with a high degree of success. I’ve led international and local businesses, I’ve worked in the youth ministry (ages 2-18) at my church for the past 14 years, and I’m the current scoutmaster for the boy scouts. As a result, I possess deep leadership skills, I understand our kindergarten through twelfth grade children,
I have strong financial knowledge and I know how to manage complex and sensitive people issues. Because of my work with scouting, junior achievement and youth Sunday school, I also understand many of the concerns our young people are experiencing and I recognize their needs. Because of the above, I believe I can volunteer my time and talent to help the school district celebrate its successes and resolve some of its more difficult issues to perhaps become one of the top 10 school district in the country.
What do you believe is the role of a School Board member?
The school board has one employee and that is the superintendent. The board holds the vision for the district, approves the strategy to achieve the vision and works with the superintendent to finalize the associated short term and long term goals to ensure the district realizes the vision. The board should also remain engaged to ensure a robust implementation plan is in place for any new initiative which should include any appropriate benchmark information, lessons learned from other districts and parental input. The board then holds the superintendent accountable for the results through mid- year and end-of-year performance reviews.
What should be the No. 1 priority for the next School Board?
Academic excellence. Our school system exists for the sole purpose of educating our children so they can reach their maximum potential. As a result, the district should always keep academic excellence as its number one priority.
What are you plans to help repair broken relationships between the district and parent groups, including BPAC and Special Education?
I believe the district is thirsty for “dialogue” among the school board, administration, employees, parent groups, families and community stakeholders. The school board should conduct open dialogue sessions with the community twice per year and the superintendent should do the same 3-4 times per year.
In addition, ongoing small group sessions with specific stakeholders would also prove helpful to receive input from employees and staff, parent groups, students, community organizations and business/government leaders.
These sessions would allow the board and superintendent to share insights on the direction of the school district and it would also allow the overall community a chance to provide feedback in a collaborative environment. As we improve this level of dialogue in a systematic and structured manner, the overall communication across the district will improve.
In the face of dwindling state education dollars, what can and should be done to ease the District 308 property tax burden for local homeowners?
I sit on the newly formed legislative committee that is developing a plan to pursue the $65 million dollars the state government owes the district. As a result, the committee will strengthen the district’s focus in this area as it considers how to partner with other school districts, businesses and legislators to build support and influence in order to receive this money as soon as possible. This will obviously take some time, but it’s the right strategic and tactical effort to begin receiving a measure of funds due to the district.
Many teachers and administrators have left the district in recent years. What should be done to improve employee retention in the district?
The district will need to enhance the engagement level between faculty/staff and the administration, improve professional development opportunities and provide competitive salaries if it hopes to attract and retain the very best teachers and administrators.
Should every elementary school in the district be home to all-day kindergarten classes?
I believe in the value of all-day kindergarten when implemented well. Research shows that children in all day kindergarten exhibit improved achievement in reading and math when compared to half-day kindergarten. In addition, a full day program also offers social, emotional and intellectual benefits to children.
Is there any place in the district for a two-way language immersion program, now or in the future?
I believe every student needs to become fluent in a second language to appreciate different cultures and compete for the best jobs in the future. As a result, in order to learn a second language, students should begin this process at the elementary school level with a well-designed curriculum and consistent leadership.
Two-way immersion programs have proven successful in some districts and our school district should review the reasons for their success and apply it where appropriate. Likewise, I also believe science is a core competency that the district should teach on a daily basis starting in the earlier elementary school grades.
With Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) becoming the driver of future opportunities, our students will be better prepared to enter these fields if they get exposed to this curriculum and critical thinking process at an earlier age.
What level of participation should the community have in drawing new school boundary lines?
All districts should engage the community when drafting new boundary lines to receive input from parents, teachers, staff members and other concerned citizens who will better inform the committee of how to generate the best solutions. As the committee creates potential solutions, it should schedule periodic meetings with the broader community to receive ongoing input prior to recommending options to the school board. The committee that produces the boundaries should include members of the community and this committee should make recommendations for the board to approve.
How would you rate the job performance of the current district administration? Please explain.
The 308 school district, like all school districts seeking to improve the education of the children they serve, has embarked on a path to enhance the educational experience. Over the past few years the district has experienced some great successes that we can replicate and some difficult struggles from which we can learn. That said, the desire to educate our children to reach their highest potential is a good vision; however, the district will live through some uncomfortable growing pains until we arrive at that goal.
The achievement gap between students with IEPs and non IEP students continues to widen in the district. In your opinion, why is this happening? What should the district do to close that gap?
The gap exists because there is a larger gap between the needs of students with IEPs and what the district can provide. As a result; to improve in this area, the district will need more support services at the elementary, Jr. High and High school levels. These support services will help students with IEPs progress and reach their goals at each grade.
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