Chris Horn’s home is decked out in all things toddler: The living room is a playground for his two preschool-aged sons, and the kitchen is a museum of cereal and cotton ball art.
“Everything revolves around the boys,” Horn said as his sons waddled in and out.
Amid the adventure of fatherhood, Horn, 35, is running for the Columbia School Board for the first time. He chose to run because he saw it as a good opportunity “not only to help and give back within the district, but really to help the community as a whole.”
Horn is from North Carolina but has moved back and forth to Columbia often, settling long-term in 2017. He is an MU graduate in mathematics and works as a reinsurance manager at Shelter Insurance.
Horn’s platform is built on early childhood education, equity and inclusion, and teachers’ work conditions.
His inspiration for improving early childhood initiatives comes from having three children. His wife, Amanda Horn, who teaches at Ridgeway Elementary School, was a big influence. He said the centers in Columbia provide a framework for expansion, but he wants to build new facilities.
“We’ve got kids who show up to kindergarten and just aren’t prepared to learn,” Horn said. “But we can provide an opportunity to address that. It completely changes their trajectory going forward.”
Horn wants to address disparities in disciplinary action and bridge the achievement gap between minority and white students in the district. Both can be done by leveraging district resources, he said.
“We see the numbers, but we need to see the ‘why’ behind it and how we can change that,” he said.
Horn lived in a household with both parents, earned both his high school and college diploma, captained his track and field team at MU and landed a job in insurance. But Horn, who is African American, has not gone through life without experiencing racism.
While he attended elementary school in North Carolina, he and his sister were two of few black kids. Horn recalled standing in line with a bully behind him. “He kept bugging me and nagging me, then he called me the N-word,” he said.
He got into a fight with the bully and was suspended. His parents moved him and his sister to a different school. But not every student who faces discrimination can move schools, and that’s where Horn recognizes his privilege.
More suspensions are given to black students in the district than their peers, and research has shown that contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline.
“When you think about privilege, it’s all unearned. It was things my parents did,” Horn said. He said he thanks his parents for instilling the importance of school and grades in him, because people expected him to fail just because of his looks.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, president of Race Matters, Friends, said her critique of Horn is that he’s young and has yet to understand the power dynamics of the district. Her biggest question, she said, is whether Horn is capable of using his position as a seat holder to push back against power.
“What I see, which is the most frustrating thing for black parents, is a candidate not knowing how to intervene in the systemic practices that produce disparities,” she said. “We’re talking about systems that have institutionalized practices that harm people who are minoritized and marginalized.”
Criticism can easily be thrown at first-time candidates. However, Horn said, it’s more helpful than harmful if someone holds him accountable — no matter what the issue.
“That’s how we make the changes we want to see,” he said.
Rick McGuire, former MU track and field coach who coached Horn from 2002 to 2006, said he witnessed Horn’s leadership skills when he was captain of the track team. McGuire said Horn’s attitude would get people to stop talking and start doing.
“He is both a great communicator and listener, which enables him to cross lots of divides, understand key issues and formulate successful plans moving forward,” McGuire said.
Ensuring teachers work in equitable, comfortable and well-paid conditions is also a focus of Horn’s candidacy. He said pay is important, but maintaining a culture of inclusion is more important.
About 93% of teachers in Missouri are white, and the retention rate for teachers of color is low in Columbia. Horn wants to work on retaining teachers of color, saying the district does a great job of bringing them in but struggles to keep them. Without addressing issues regarding teachers, he said, there won’t be a trickle-down effect on the success of students.
“Kids succeed when they can look in a classroom and see somebody who looks like them,” Horn said.