The Facebook posts for Sachin Isaacs’ school board campaign embody parts of his winning story: quotes by Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela, photos with his wife and two daughters and graphics of “21st century” values.
“It’s no longer that our children are competing with our neighboring school district,” said Isaacs, who lives in Burnsville with his family. “They’re competing with kids from Beijing, Seoul, Mumbai, for admission to universities and career opportunities.”
Isaacs is the newest member of Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school board. At a time when the district’s demographics are rapidly evolving, Isaacs, 38, brings a fresh perspective to the board: He’s a first-generation immigrant, a person of color and a father with a child in the district.
Isaacs rose to the top of a crowded field in a special election Tuesday, winning nearly 29 percent of the vote.
His objectives include cross-cultural instruction and using technology in the classroom. He views suburban schools on a “holistic global stage,” he said, where students must prepare for an “information-saturated world.”
“I also have a parent’s perspective,” he said. “That doesn’t make me uniquely qualified by any means, but it brings a unique perspective.”
Seven candidates vied for the seat, vacated when Rob Duchscher resigned after 16 years on the board.
District 196 is the state’s fourth-largest with about 27,000 students. Board members are responsible for managing the district, from approving the curriculum to setting an annual levy to hiring the superintendent.
While the district is about a third students of color, the school board has remained largely white. It’s a common situation, said Voices for Racial Justice Executive Director Vina Kay, and one that needs to change.
“It’s so important with our changing demographics that the institutions that support our communities — that are so important to our communities — start to look more like us,” she said. “I think of schools as the obvious place to start.”
In Robbinsdale, Helen Bassett has watched the percentage of students of color in the district more than double in the 14 years she’s spent on the school board. Meanwhile, she’s been the only person of color on the board.
“I think there certainly is room for improvement there,” she said. “But you have to have people who want to run, and you have to have people who are serious about it.”
Isaacs seems to be one of those people.
Duchscher defeated Isaacs in the last election but said he encouraged Isaacs to stay involved.
“I was just impressed with his intelligence and his passion and his knowledge,” Duchscher said. “He had done his homework.”
Art Coulson, the board’s co-director and first member of color, said he expects Isaacs to fit in with the rest of the board.
“We don’t have people who are just looking for the next highest political office,” said Coulson, whose youngest child recently graduated. “He’s joining a really high-functioning board, and we’re really proud of that, and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
Born in India, Isaacs moved to Minnesota to attend Winona State University. He lived in the Twin Cities for more than a decade before moving south in 2013 for his children’s education.
“All kids need to look at positions of leadership and see something that is attainable and achievable,” he said. “Opening a door is sometimes not enough. You need to reach out a hand and invite them in.”