Young Indian American wins school board election primaries

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April, 2012

WASHINGTON: A young Indian American has created history of sorts after winning the primaries in a school board election in the State of Maryland.

Raheela Ahmed, 18, finished first in the Prince George's County (Maryland) Board of Education elections, while the incumbent School Board Chairwoman, Jeana Jacob, received about 1,000 votes less than her.

April, 2012

WASHINGTON: A young Indian American has created history of sorts after winning the primaries in a school board election in the State of Maryland.

Raheela Ahmed, 18, finished first in the Prince George's County (Maryland) Board of Education elections, while the incumbent School Board Chairwoman, Jeana Jacob, received about 1,000 votes less than her.

Jacobs has been the School Board Chair for the past five years, and is vying for her second re-election.

She received 25 per cent of votes compared to Raheela's 34 per cent.

If elected in November, Raheela, an undergraduate student at University of Maryland, will become part of a nine-member School Board, which administers the 18th largest school system in the US, with more than 120,000 students and an annual budget of USD 1.6 billion.

“It was really very exciting and also humbling to receive this very unexpected outcome in this race,” Ahmed told India-West by telephone from Bowie, Maryland, on a break between college classes. “The voters were very supportive of us and the results from this primary were really motivating,” she said.

The Prince George County school district is facing a number of issues, including teacher retention, the lack of parent involvement, low graduation rates and a looming budget crisis.

Ahmed — a 13-year-veteran of the school district — said her first priority, once she’s elected to the board, would be to fine-tune communication channels between state officials and the people who work hands-on with the children in her district, including teachers, parent volunteers and school administrators.

“State officials need to see what our problems really are,” said the college freshman, who attends the University of Maryland and is a double major in business and biology.

Teachers in Prince George County have not received pay raises in several years, leading to low morale and low retention rates, said Ahmed, adding that the district has no independent means of generating revenue, outside of local, state and federal funds. Still, she believes that money in the budget can and should be shuffled around to give raises and retain good teachers.

Ahmed’s father, Shukoor, who hails from Hyderabad, has been a key mentor for his daughter’s campaign. Shukoor Ahmed has twice contested to be a state delegate; he lost both times, but in the process, fueled his young daughter’s own political aspirations.

“My dad has been through a lot of this process already, so he’s given me a good base to start with,” said the exuberant teen. “He’s the go-to guy for almost anything,” she said.

Ahmed’s headscarf has not been an issue as she pounds the pavement and knocks on doors. “I’m very grateful to live in a district where people are open-minded to me wearing a headscarf and running for political office,” she said.

The consummate volunteer — who has received many awards for her community service work and leadership in high school — is the program coordinator of Health Leads, an organization that helps families find resources for food, clothing, and shelter.

She is also a student presenter in the America Reads*America Counts program at her university, which will allow her to visit troubled schools and address literacy issues with both students and parents.

Ahmed was born and raised in Bowie, Maryland. Her mother, Nabila is from Pakistan, but came to the U.S. when she was five, and grew up in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Ahmed has one younger sister, Shabnam, a junior in high school.

"I am committed to lifting the performance of our county school system and to excellence in education," said Raheela, who attributed her victory to her strong grassroots organization.

She had over 50 volunteers to help her go door to door in neighborhoods and campaign.

A young community activist and leader, Raheela graduated from The Science and Technology Program at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in May 2011, with above a 4.0 cumulative GPA.

Currently at the University of Maryland, College Park as a student in the Honors College, studying Biology and Business there, Raheela has already started preparing for the November elections.

"I go to sleep thinking about the campaign every night," she said.

"I'm taking a class in accounting, and then somehow I'm linking it to budgets and linking it to campaigning," she said.


Courtesy: TOI