Our “LEE Members in Office” series shares the stories of members who ran for office during COVID. Find out why these members chose to run and what continues to motivate them to serve as elected leaders.
Maimona Afzal Berta is the Governing Board Member of the Franklin-McKinley School District in California. She works full-time as a special education teacher in the Alum Rock School District in a neighboring community, and she also serves on the teacher's union executive board in Alum Rock School District, which comprises 11 area public schools.
Eight years after beginning her teaching career through Teach For America, Maimona is still in her original classroom at her original placement site. She attributes it to the amazing San Jose community and the students and families she works with each day.
As a new parent, Maimona is proud to serve her community as a school board member and knows there is no better time than right now to step up and push for student-centered decisions. Watch her story and read more about her experience.
Digital Equity Coalition and Impact of COVID
After schools closed on March 13, 2020 for the pandemic, Maimona was left wondering how she was going to reach her students virtually. So many of her students were unable to access the internet at home, let alone login to her virtual classroom. This struggle led Maimona to reach out to other LEE members, other elected officials, and educators in Santa Clara County. Together, they founded the Digital Equity Coalition to promote wider broadband access in their area.
“We depend on the Internet for everything. It really is a human rights issue. We know that it's been a longstanding issue of inequity, but it's just being even more spotlighted right now [because of the pandemic] in the sense of urgency is even amplified now because we know just how dire these resources literally are.”
The Power of Advocacy
“It was actually through that process we uncovered 15,000 highly vulnerable families right here in the Silicon Valley. You had no idea that these families existed unless you work directly with them and knowing that there was such a high need that these families and students are falling through the cracks and being able to to work with them, to amplify their voices and their stories. We actually were able to collectively secure $15.3 million to address some of those short term solutions, like hot spots, Internet hotspot devices, and Chromebook tablets so that the students and their families could access the Internet. And that all came from advocacy, really amplifying those stories and having students and their families share what they're going through. And so now taking that from the the local level really to extend that, because we know this is an issue statewide, really nationwide.”
Representation in Action
“When I started on the board, I was the only woman, let alone the only woman of color on the board. And that in itself, you know, when we're talking about experiences, when we're talking about perspective, there are just lived experiences and lived things that I go through that perhaps my colleagues have lesser experience with or lesser insight on. And I think one of the most glaring ones for that right now is as a new mother, when we talk about things like the the majority of our teaching population at this point do identify as what they identify as women. And so when we're thinking about things like maternity leave and how women engaging and trying to support their families, are we considering that perspective when we're making decisions about our employees?”
You Are the Solution to Leadership Problems
“There's always going to be a better time, there's always going to be better circumstances. But I think the main thing with considering a run for office is there never is a perfect time to run. You know, I feel like for so long I even questioned whether I had the right skill sets, this imposter syndrome syndrome of am I ready? Do I possess these experiences? Am I capable enough as a leader to to assume this role, especially in such a trying time? And the answer is yes. I think anyone who has really been in the classroom, anyone who's who has anyone can really be a leader.”
Leaders Have to Take Risks
“If I constantly ask [my students] to take risks, to make mistakes, to engage in that learning process, to become the leaders I know they are, then I have to be willing to take that risk myself. And so I think sometimes it's a matter of taking that hard core look in the eye, in the mirror and saying: I believe in you. I know that the ideas, the solutions, the leadership that you possess is there. So let's engage in this work and take this courageous step forward.”
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