The elections for school board in Iowa are fast approaching, the first big round of races that are seeing new leaders step up in the wake of the 2016 outcome. One candidate that’s drawing a lot of attention in Central Iowa is Kyrstin Delagardelle Shelley, who was recently endorsed by the Des Moines Education Association and a host of other labor unions. She’s one of three contenders on the September 12 ballot competing for two at-large Des Moines school board seats.
A teacher/librarian at Northview Middle School in Ankeny, this is Shelley’s first bid for public office. The election results from this past November encouraged her to launch a campaign to ensure that people of different backgrounds still had a say in government.
“Growing up, I learned the value of public service,” she said. “Participating in 4-H as a child and young adult, I pledged my service to club, community, country, and world … As a third-generation educator, I knew teaching was the answer to that call. Following the results of the 2016 election, I realized voices like mine were missing. As a progressive, multiracial educator, it became obvious I couldn’t just talk about the issues in our community. I needed to roll up my sleeves, jump in, and contribute more meaningfully to the conversation.”
Shelley grew up in Elwood, Iowa in a blended family, attended Grand View University and ISU before teaching at West Delaware High School in Northeast Iowa. She and her husband, Will, moved to Des Moines two years ago, settling down into the North of Grand neighborhood. Here she’s quickly become engaged in the community, serving on the Des Moines Public Schools Equity Committee and getting involved with the Iowa Women’s March and the New Leaders Council.
“Serving as a school board member is not a role I traditionally saw for myself,” she noted of her decision this year. “However, I’ve learned if we want our community to be its best self, we must work together.”
So far the campaign has been one of neighborhood meetings and forums throughout Des Moines. That’s important for Shelley, who wants to make sure that she hears from everyone in the city’s diverse community.
“One of the best parts of Des Moines is the diversity, not only racially and culturally, but also the unique flavor and culture of each neighborhood,” she explained. “Des Moines residents feel pride in their neighborhoods. I view it as my responsibility to understand every neighborhood’s values and needs. Our campaign is focused on listening to the needs of parents, community members, and students … This seat isn’t about me; it’s about the Des Moines community as a whole.”
Shelley has gotten a boost from young professionals and progressive activists in her race, particularly from the New Leaders Council network. Her campaign has held four house parties and knocked over 2,000 doors. Local races don’t have to do finance reports until ten days out from the election, but Shelley has held a couple well-attended fundraisers and seems to have enough for a full campaign.
Though a relative newcomer to Central Iowa politics, she’s built up enough clout to garner endorsements from Senators Matt McCoy and Tony Bisignano and Representative Brian Meyer. And she’s won over backing from AFSCME, IBEW, the CWA, the Asian and Latino Coalition and Iowa women for Progressive Change.
School board races are relatively low turnout affairs, though with the at-large seats covering all of Des Moines, you still have to win over thousands of votes. 11,655 voted in the 2013 election when five candidates contested the two open spots. That year Rob Barron narrowly won the second seat by just 28 votes. He’s up for reelection this year. Connie Boesen is running for city council instead, leaving one of the seats open. Barron, Shelley and Louisa Dykstra is the field of contenders for this year.
by Pat Rynard
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