Last week at the East Hillsborough County Democratic monthly meeting at O'Brien's in Brandon, District 6 school board candidate Dipa Shah was given a few minutes to address the audience. She talked a little bit about her background and her belief that being on the school board can make a real difference.
It was all rather innocuous, but it set off an intense debate amongst the Democrats at the meeting. That's because Shah is a registered Republican. Ultimately, the Eastern Hillsborough Democrats voted twice on whether to allow Republicans to address them in the future. The first vote maintained the status quo of inclusion; but after further debate, the East Hillborough Dems opted to no longer allow Republicans to address them.
"I respect that," Shah told CL when informed of what happened after she left the bar. But she says that as one of a number of candidates running in the District 6 race in a county of more than 1.2 million people, she'll go anywhere that will have her to get her message out. "Our country is being divided by partisan politics, but I'm not involved in partisan politics," she says. "My only goal is to do right for our kids, to let them have the opportunity like I had."
The Indian native's family moved to the U.S. when she was a year old, to Philadelphia. "I went to public school. I got a good education and had lots of opportunities to create a life that I like and I'm happy with, and I want to make sure we're all giving all of our students that same opportunity."
Shah is running in the very crowded race for District 6, the narrative for which changed considerably when current school board chair April Griffin announced that she would run again for the seat, after initially saying two terms were enough, and that she was going to move on with her career. But Griffin announced in February that because of of issues regarding the district's transportation and special-education departments, she's going to stick around.
Her re-entrance compelled candidates John Evon and Russ Patterson to drop out, but Shah's in it for the long haul. "This is where my heart is, where my commitment is," she maintains.
Shah lives in Valrico and is the mother of two boys who go to schools in the district. She says it's unfair to base a teacher's income and performance on how well a child tests, saying that there needs to be a "broader spectrum" for such evaluations.
Regarding the Common Core Standards, the attempt to nationalize education standards across the country, Shah has concerns about private interests making money off of it, and she says it's time to slow down the process. "I think we’re moving really fast, we’ve moved way too fast and we haven’t really had an opportunity to learn what this is all about."
Shah is also outspoken about the work culture in the school district. She says too many employees feel alienated by the system and are fearful of speaking out.
"I think our teachers are very professional but we don't treat them that way," she says. "Our educators in our school district work very, very hard, and I wish they had a more positive experience to work in."
In addition to Griffin, other candidates in the District 6 school board race include Randy Toler, Stacy Hahn, Charles Raymond Brink, Asher Edelson, Paula Meckley and Allison McGillivrey Fernandez.