Since graduating from Pitman High School six years ago, Turlock resident Jaimee Ellison has gone on to serve in the Army National Guard, graduate with a double major from Stanislaus State and help found Turlock’s own Black Lives Matter chapter. Now, the 23-year-old has set her sights on a new goal: earning a seat on the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Ellison pulled papers on Friday to run against incumbent Miranda Chalabi for Trustee Area 1, which encompasses the portion of Turlock west of Geer Road and north of West Christoffersen Parkway. A product of TUSD schools, Ellison graduated from PHS in 2014 before serving as an information technology specialist in the Army National Guard. She returned to Turlock to attend Stanislaus State and recently graduated as a double major in Psychology and Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science.
Following the death of George Floyd in May and the subsequent protests throughout the country, Ellison and her friend Elisha Coleman were inspired to create Turlock Black Lives Matter. The chapter organized marches and protests throughout the Central Valley, including in Modesto, Turlock and Oakdale, and Ellison decided to become more involved through elected office in order to create the change she was advocating for.
As a student who struggled in high school herself, she believes more can be done to support students as they make their way through the public education system.
“In high school I wasn’t the best student and it’s partly my fault, but now I see that there is so much potential within the school district to help students who aren’t getting the extra attention that they need,” Ellison said. “There are programs in place that are good but they can be better. Being as young as I am and having literally gone through the school system just a few years ago, I can see it and see where we might need a younger mind with new ideas. I want to give the students a youthful voice and help them get whatever they may need and more.”
Ellison has always been drawn to positions of leadership, she said, whether it be during her time at basic training or speaking at police brutality protests. If elected, Ellison hopes to serve as a voice for people — and students — of color while on the Board.
“I think I can bring that perspective of what it’s like being a person of color and going through the TUSD system. I’m not saying it’s bad, but there are a lot of external struggles we face that aren’t really recognized until we get older,” Ellison said. “Looking back on my school years now, it’s something I’d like to address and bring to light so that hopefully, moving forward, there are more programs put in place not only for students who are low-income, but specifically minorities and people of color.”
Ellison also hopes to use her degree in psychology to shed a light on the importance of mental health in schools. TUSD hired its first-ever mental health practitioners in 2018 and Turlock High School has its own National Alliance on Mental Illness club, but Ellison believes more can be done.
“Teaching mental health early on could really help kids. When I was in high school, I didn’t know what was going on with me and I started failing my classes and not doing my homework. I think a bigger emphasis on getting the right mental health practitioners in the schools who can answer questions accurately for students when they have problems is important,” she said. “It’s inevitable that we’ll have life problems. Instead of teaching kids how to avoid them, we need to take precautionary measures in the beginning by teaching and educating them early on.”
While some could view it as a setback, Ellison believes her biggest advantage is her youth. Her only opponent so far, Chalabi, is 11 years her senior. She was appointed to the Board in June of last year and is also seeking election for the first time. Chalabi graduated from THS in 2003 and currently works for Stanislaus County in Behavior Health Recovery Services as a data and outcomes project coordinator.
“I’m seeking election because I have so much that I still want to accomplish,” Chalabi said. “I care about the future of all students and I want to be a voice for those students the system has failed. I want to be the voice of our teachers, parents and community. To do that I will work to understand many perspectives and be a fair representative that balances them all. As a parent of two young TUSD students and a long-time community member, I am committed to the success of TUSD.”
Ellison looks forward to the fast-approaching November election and her first foray into politics.
“I take everything as a learning experience. I’m not going to be going into this knowing what I’m doing all the time, so I’m going to try and take in as much as I can,” Ellison said. “I want to try and provide them with a youthful mind and help them be more open-minded to the students and what they need.”
The biennial elections for the Board are scheduled during the general election on Nov. 3, with Trustees in Areas 1, 3, 5 and 7 whose terms are expiring: Chalabi, Ken Malech, Frank Lima and Anthony Silva, respectively. In addition to Chalabi, Silva will also be seeking election for the first time after being appointed in 2015, and Malech and Lima are seeking reelection.
The period for interested parties to file declarations of candidacy is July 13 to Aug. 7. Due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, candidate filing is by appointment only. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 209-525-5201. Candidates are encouraged to call as early as possible to ensure candidacy nomination paperwork is completed prior to the filing deadline.
To view the TUSD Trustee Area Map, visit www.turlock.k12.ca.us/Domain/1243.