Shanice Clarke, 27

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27 year old

Shanice Clarke is running for Portland Public School Board, a district known for failing students of color.

An educator, advocate, and grassroots community organizer, she’s looking to prove that your proximity to wealth doesn’t determine your electability.

What was the best piece of advice you received before you?

I was recruited to run for office as a result of work with leaders in my community, and they told me that there are multiple pathways to becoming an elected official. Being authentic and representing the needs of folks on the frontlines is something of great value. When I started out this election in a space with other candidates of color, we really centered on this idea of people versus money. There is true power in doing a grassroots campaign, being on the field, and knocking on doors. Your access to proximity and wealth doesn't have to determine who holds power.

There are other ways to build power that don't look how they traditionally have. So I think that's something that I've continuously been thinking about throughout this process by trying to build momentum and energy to do true community organizing.

What is the role of the school board in our government? And why should I care about school board election if I don’t have children or family in school right now?

On paper, the school board evaluates, hires, and recruits a superintendent. They are part of a process to create vision and values that are connected to the outcomes and goals we need to be moving towards as a school district. School boards also facilitate collective bargaining agreements with the teachers.

A critical part of being a school board member is addressing and creating policy that impacts curriculum, supports how schools operate, and a myriad of things that involve compliance around Title IX, sex education and basic needs of students and staff.

I think we assume that you need to be a parent or have a child to be invested in your neighborhood school or your school system. But stepping away from being aware of issues that impact us is a real detriment to the community as a whole. There is true power in parents being advocates for school districts, but we need folks who represent different connections to schools, business leaders, students, the carpenters who help develop our schools’ capital projects, and others to truly wrap around the full grasp of issues that schools deal with.

I personally have dedicated my life to educational policy work because my high school experience was destructive, and policy work really helped me understand what it means to have a community-centered approach a when we determine indicators for student learning and success.

Schools are the places where people shape society and become contributing members of a global world. So we definitely aren't in a silo as a school system, we're interconnected to all moving parts of a given community. Being involved is critical, especially when we are continuously underfunded nationwide. PPS  gets millions of dollars of cuts every year- so partnerships with city officials, public officials, organizations, and public services are critical to making sure we're doing the work that we’ve promised students.

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“There is true power in doing a grassroots campaign, being on the field, and knocking on doors. Your access to proximity and wealth doesn't have to determine who holds power.”

What are the potholes in your school district? What are the issues you feel are being neglected and you want to see addressed?

The Oregon Secretary of State just released an audit in January, detailing some of our major issues within Portland Public Schools. One of them is how we're systematically failing our students of color. Only 19% of black students in the third grade are at reading level and we’re under-enrolled in our Title I schools. Title I schools are spaces where we have of students of color, and those spaces also have a lower number of experienced teachers. We need to invest in early literacy invention and programming. So, headstart programs, longer class days, and longer school years are things that need to be prioritized and invested in with our budget.

Part of my platform is centering retention issues and support for teachers and staff. With teachers roughly sticking around for two or three years, and principals staying for an average of two years at a given school, we need to provide some leadership institutes and training for principals, curriculum development and support for teachers, more on-boarding, and resource groups that serve the basic needs of teachers and staff.

In addition, wraparound services that impact students in ways that recognize their early signs or symptoms of underlying issues can help address the achievement gap. With wraparound support, we can holistically address things that are happening with students so they have equal access to learning that they deserve.

You described yourself as a progressive community organizer. How do you define progressive?

I think being progressive is challenging the status quo and disrupting the normal practices that we normally see. So I'm prioritizing proper representation of our community's needs to center those who are the most vulnerable, and those who are not traditionally at the table. Progressive policy or progressive identity is interconnected to how we distribute power and how we distribute access to wealth in ways that lift up communities that aren't systematically benefiting.

My progressive work centers restorative justice practices for conduct. That’s being firm about seeing the whole breadth of a student’s story and repairing harm in a way that pulls out the resilience of students. Restorative justice is a method that avoids the suspension of students, and avoids detention as a default mechanism to deal with disruptions or conduct issues.

Being truly progressive means disrupting the status quo, distributing power structures, and making sure that the communities who are the most vulnerable and disenfranchised can navigate the topower structures we live within.

What perspective do you think is currently missing on the school board as it is right now? What perspective you think you're bringing that may not be there?

Right now, we have a lot of advocates who are parents on the school board and folks who are older and come from the corporate world. I think we're definitely missing more voices connected to youth, students, and educators who are on the front lines. I do educational policy work in my current role that impacts student conduct and interpersonal violence response. So, I know what works in different districts and in actual educational spaces. Professional experience in education administration is something that board members are generally not coming into Portland Public Schools with.

I am running to make sure community voices are elevated in PPS, and frontline experiences inform policy creation. I do believe that if we empower and engage student voices, it will uplift the needs for stability in the district.

“Being civically engaged is a powerful tool. Seeking mentorship, seeking support from community, family, and having a strong plan to connect and be accountable to communities is something that we don't see often- but is a source of power.”

I’m bringing a voice that reflects the everyday experiences of students, a voice of a unionized educator, a policy maker, and someone who's connected to the solutions communities are creating on the through educator advocacy groups across the city of Portland.

What advice would you give to another young person considering a run for office?

There are multiple pathways to being elected. I think we see people who are close in proximity to wealth and power, being able to determine electability or win ability. But there is a wave and a change in what we see as normal ways of becoming an elected leader. Being civically engaged is a powerful tool. Seeking mentorship, seeking support from community, family, and having a strong plan to connect and be accountable to communities is something that we don't see often- but is a source of power.

Having a true community-centered approach that represents their needs is enough. I would tell this young person to connect with the people in their community, their colleagues, their friends, their family, and ask them the things that they want to see. Incorporate their stories and their experiences into the work. Those tools are power.

The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff. 

Lacy Wright