At-Large School Board Candidate Kyrstin Delagardelle Shelley shares plans for Des Moines Public Schools
The two district seats for the Des Moines School Board are uncontested in this year’s race. Before Kyrstin Delagardelle Shelley announced she was running for an at-large seat on the school board, that too was an uncontested race with only two candidates running for two seats.
“No one asked me to run,” Shelley said. “But the voices of our educators were missing in politics as a whole.”
Shelley is a third-generation educator, currently working as a teacher/librarian at Northview Middle School in Ankeny. Shelley graduated from Grand View University and moved back to Des Moines two years ago with her husband, Will.
Within her short time back in Des Moines, she has involved herself in the New Leaders Council and was a co-organizer for the Des Moines Women’s March. Shelley has been dedicated to education since she was in elementary school, and her platform focuses heavily on inclusion, diverse literacy and neighborhood school reform.
“We currently only have one teacher on the School Board,” said Nathan Erickson, Shelley’s campaign manager. “The perspective of an educator is important. They interact with our kids, staff, other teachers, and parents every day. (Kyrstin) really cares about each neighborhood’s schools. She has worked to build relationships across Des Moines. That matters to me.”
“Also, as a multiracial progressive educator, there just weren’t other voices like mine in the race,” Shelley added.
The other two candidates for the at-large seat are incumbent Rob Barron and Louisa Dykstra.
Having a local election where the race wasn’t actually a race did not settle well with Shelley. After the election results in November, she wanted to give everyone involved in local politics a choice. That meant adding her voice to the at-large race.
All Children, All Neighborhoods
Despite a low voter turnout in the past, Shelley is advocating for all students and neighborhoods by listening to the wishes of parents who are immersing themselves in their children’s education.
“When we talk about the role of the school board, it’s for me to make sure that I have my fingers on the pulse of the community and the neighborhood,” Shelley said. “I’m learning and will continue to learn what’s important to parents, families and community members through listening.”
The Des Moines school systems are integrating students into the community through project-based learning, developing what Shelley calls “their soft skills,” which are communication and collaboration, essentially non-classroom skills. They are learning what it means to be different and how to communicate with authentic individuals, and it’s happening outside of the classroom.
The goal Shelley will work toward if elected to the school board seat revolves around making the neighborhood schools ideal for parents and their children.
“That way children are going to school with their neighbors and growing up together,” Shelley said. “… It helps make a neighborhood strong when parents know who one another’s kids are.”
This community and school partnership is important to many of the school’s parents. Shelley said parents, more times than not, want their children in the schools downtown as opposed to in their neighborhood because they are more diverse.
“I want every parent to be proud to send their kid to a school in their neighborhood,” Shelley said. “I don’t want parents to think that if they could afford to live in another zip code, even within Des Moines Proper, that their kid would get a better education.”
The Challenge of a Diverse Classroom
Shelley’s other selling point is her deep drive and dedication for inclusion. Shelley acknowledges and prides Des Moines Public Schools for its diversity, but it can be a hard topic to teach in elementary and middle schools.
“I don’t think our kindergartens recognize the difference,” Shelley said. “It happens when the outside world points it out. … There’s a program called ‘Let’s Talk’ that I would love to see spread district wide. … It gives students a chance to mediate conflict in a way that can keep kids from having suspensions because they do talk circles that help kids come to a consensus.”
The recent news from the White House regarding the halt on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) from the Trump administration could mean swift course of action since the school system is so diverse.
There will likely be community-wide discussions about culture, safety and next steps if President Trump’s plan moves forward, Shelley said.
“Ultimately, our students have the right to come to school,” Shelley said. “Our parent’s need to know that their students are safe at school and the children shouldn’t have to worry about their parents while they’re at school. They need to know they will see each other at the end of the day.”
What more Inclusive Literature looks like for DMPS
Shelley said that the way education is being taught now doesn’t work for all students, especially in schools that are so racially and ethnically diverse.
“The kids at DMPS, in many ways, mirror the diversity of our world, in regards to lived experience, ethnicity (and) religion,” Erickson said. “I want someone on our school board who celebrates that and works to ensure we lift everyone up to their potential.”
Even with many years under her belt advocating for diverse literature, Shelley still acknowledges there is a long way to go.
“There are multiple perspectives to history that need to be included in textbooks,” Shelley said. “The more we prompt teachers to share these, the more we will see students connect with their own heritage and their own past.”
Here is where her knowledge as an educator and teacher librarian influences how she plans to make immediate change.
“Public education has structures of colonialism and in a way was built to keep people out or to suppress people’s cultures,” Shelley said. “We need to start addressing these problems within the education system. Ultimately, when elected, I become the system and being dedicated and unafraid to ask the questions that will push our system to be more open and inclusive is important.”