2022 Voter Guide: Salimah Jasani, candidate for Baltimore City Board of Education

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Baltimore City Board of Education

Salimah Jasani



Pen Lucy, Baltimore City

I work as an education consultant with school districts and State Education Agencies around the country and help them to solve their most pressing challenges. I provide expertise in areas like strategic planning, teacher retention, personalized learning, and equity-centered design. I began my career as a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools, and I have since worked in education at the local, state, and federal level.

Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin; Master of Science in Education from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education; and Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and English from the University of Texas at Austin.

I am a first-time candidate! I have been a policy fellow in the offices of elected officials, volunteered for numerous campaigns, and led voter turnout and outreach efforts.

Why are you running for office?

I am running for the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners because I believe in the power of communities — especially students — to design systems that work for them. I want to ensure these voices are heard when decisions are made by the School Board. Additionally, as someone with special education expertise, and with my lived experience of being an immigrant to this country, I can provide a key perspective that is currently missing from the Board. I have worked in education at the local, state, and federal levels, from being a classroom teacher at Digital Harbor High School to being a fellow in Speaker Pelosi's office in the U.S. House of Representatives. These experiences have given me a unique lens on how to promote equity and justice for our students, and it would be an honor to apply that expertise as a member of the School Board.

What's the most pressing issue the city's school system faces and how would you address it?

I believe that inequity in education — based on disability status, race, gender identity, language proficiency, etc — is the most pressing issue faced by the school system. There should be no such thing as a "bad school" because ALL of our children deserve an excellent education and access to opportunities that will allow them to thrive. To address educational inequity, I would work to meaningfully include students with disabilities so that they are fully participating members of the school community; promote School Board outreach in ways that are culturally responsive and meet our community members where they are; support district-wide training and coaching around diversity, equity, and inclusion; and revise policies, practices and procedures that exacerbate bias. As a key lever in addressing inequity, I would work to restructure the School Board in a way that amplifies student voice, restores community trust, and promotes meaningful engagement.

What efforts do the city schools need to make to address systemic racism in education and society?

Addressing systemic racism starts by acknowledging that it exists, and that it intersects with sexism, classism, and ableism. As a school system, we must ensure that all professionals who interact with our students are trained and receive follow up coaching on topics such as implicit bias and antiracism. Additionally, City Schools should continue to apply a laser focus to areas in which there are racial disparities, including student discipline, the overidentification of students of color as having disabilities, and the hiring and retention of Black teachers. Data analysis and root cause analysis of these issues should be conducted at the district, school, and team levels, with the collaborative development of implementation plans and frequent progress monitoring.

What, if any, changes would you propose to the school system's discipline policies?

I want to ensure that our schools are places where students and staff experience both physical and psychological safety, which requires prioritizing appropriate staffing ratios and funding of support services. In terms of discipline policies, I support shifting from punitive to restorative justice and limiting the instances when students can be removed from schools through suspension or expulsion. Every time a student is suspended, they become more likely to be involved with the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems. Moreover, a disproportionate amount of students involved with the juvenile justice system are Black, live in poverty, or have disabilities. We must revise our discipline policies to eliminate the possibility of personal bias from the assigning of consequences to students. And we must provide students with the academic and social/emotional/behavioral supports necessary to have their needs met, so that they can be in classrooms, participating in instruction.

Schools are still dealing with the consequences of lost learning and socialization from online-only education. How would you advocate closing the gap?

For many students and their families, online learning posed extreme challenges. These challenges were exacerbated by unequal access to technology and other resources. I would advocate closing the gap by ensuring equitable distribution of resources across schools, including tutoring and intervention programs, access to technology, and initiatives focused on student wellness. There are a number of new pandemic-related funding sources, which I would target toward school-based interventions that can be sustained even after the funding runs out. We also need to redesign our schools so all our learners can thrive, not just survive. This includes pandemic-specific policies, such as increasing the ratio of counselors and school psychologists available in schools to address the grief created by the pandemic, as well as best practices in education, such as personalizing instruction for students' unique learning needs while also exposing them to rigorous curriculum to prepare them for college and careers.

In hindsight, was closing in-person school and moving online the right thing to do in the early months of the pandemic?

I am not a public health scientist, so it is not in my expertise to assess whether it was the right decision at that time. However, I am a policy expert and a member of the disability advocacy community, and it is clear that in the early days of the pandemic, there was not sufficient research about the short-term and long-term health impacts of COVID-19, nor on appropriate safety measures, particularly to protect our most vulnerable community members. Moving forward, we need to address the root causes that made online learning so difficult. This includes improving our digital accessibility so that Baltimore's students are able to achieve in an increasingly digital world. It also includes physical infrastructure improvements so that issues like poor ventilation in old buildings do not keep students out of school.

Many of Baltimore's students deal with challenges that affect their behavior in the classroom; how should schools handle disruptive behavior?

This is one of my areas of expertise. I taught in a specialized program for Baltimore students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Over the past two school years, I also facilitated a statewide professional learning community for teachers on the topic of addressing challenging behaviors. These experiences solidified my commitment to the meaningful inclusion of students with disabilities. They also demonstrated the importance of providing trauma-informed, socio-emotional and behavioral support to students in addition to academic support. We have methodology in place to address challenging behaviors, such as conducting Functional Behavioral Assessments and developing and implementing Behavior Intervention Plans, but often fidelity of implementation is a challenge at the school level. Thus, we must support educators and staff in addressing the root causes of challenging behavior through evidence-based strategies, which requires providing them with the planning time, coaching, and additional classroom support necessary to support students' behavioral development.

In a recent survey, city schools asked parents for their thoughts regarding year-round school. What is your perspective?

As someone who is committed to ending educational inequity, my interest has been piqued by research showing that year-round school can have a significant impact on reducing disparities caused by the "summer slide." That being said, I believe in the saying, "Nothing about us without us." This phrase was coined by the disability advocacy community to argue that people who are affected by policy decisions should be able to participate in those decisions. In this case, students, parents, teachers, related service providers, paraprofessionals, support staff, and administrators would all be heavily impacted by a switch to year-round school. Thus, I strongly believe that they, as members of the City Schools community, should collectively determine the calendar and policy that works best for them. I have observed many districts around the country switching to year-round school, but in the most successful of these cases, it has been a community-centered decision.

What grade would you give Sonja Santelises on her job performance?

In my current and previous roles, I have supported district leaders in redesigning districts to better meet the needs of students and the community, and this is exactly what I intend to do if elected to serve on the School Board. I see the ideal relationship between the CEO and the Board to be one where the Board holds the CEO accountable and supports the CEO in making decisions that meaningfully incorporate stakeholder input. I have agreed with some of Dr. Santelises' decisions, and not with others. What is critical is that when there are disagreements between the CEO and the Board or even among Board members, that there is transparency, a willingness to engage in nuanced discussion, and a sense of trust. This is the kind of relationship I will seek to build with the CEO of City Schools, whether that CEO is Dr. Santelises or her successor.

How should the system bring up its test scores?

Tests are supposed to measure student performance against grade-level standards, and standards are indicators of what students need to be college and career ready. Thus, we need to prioritize providing students with rigorous educational experiences that prepare them for life after school and enable them to have a high quality of life. Some strategies to achieve that, in my view, include: (1) ensuring all students have access to grade level curriculum, and all teachers have access to the training and coaching needed to successfully implement grade level curriculum; (2) effectively implementing an integrated tiered system of supports so that students receive the level of intervention needed to ensure they master grade-level skills; and (3) working with other agencies and community partners to address factors that make it difficult for kids to learn (transportation, unsafe housing, hunger, etc).

Baltimore Sun Media's voter guide allows candidates to provide their background, policy and platforms on issues, in their own words. Any questions or feedback can be sent to, or read more about the questionnaire process here.