Dayton Board of Education
Southwest Ohio, Local
Gabriela Pickett is the Director of Research in International Education at the Lynda A. Cohen Center for the Study of Child Development. As an education researcher, a tireless advocate for the immigrant community, and mother of six children, Gabriela understands the challenges facing Dayton Public Schools. Being a mom to a child with autism and a gifted student, Gabriela uniquely appreciates the needs of individual students. If elected, Gabriela will leverage her personal experience and professional expertise to fight for a quality and equitable education for every student in Dayton Public Schools.
In 2020 Gabriela will begin her work as a Dayton Board of Education Member.Facebook
Meet the Candidate
Can you tell our members a little bit about your journey to filing as a candidate?
I was born in Mexico City, where I was a founding member of a political party (MORENA) that was eventually recognized for making the electoral process more democratic. By the late 80’s we were considered the opposition and were violently persecuted. After some of my peers were assassinated, I decided to come to Texas. My political activism became dormant when my first born was diagnosed with autism. I advocated for my son to have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that would allow him to achieve his maximum potential, and had to learn the bureaucracy of a school system that didn’t always put kids first. In the late 2001 my family relocated to Dayton, Ohio. At this point, another one of my children was diagnosed with a learning disability that required an IEP. The Dayton School District refused to accommodate his needs and I was forced to seek mediation. A day before the mediation, the DPS finally agreed to honor the IEP. Because I had navigated the system, parents in the neighborhood started coming to me for help when attempting to get developmentally appropriate accommodations for their kids. When two of my kids enrolled at Stivers, I saw more and more of their peers put in a position of having to either fight for their educational rights or leave the district to get the services they need. My friends in the immigrant community faced added barriers, so I began going to school board meetings regularly to advocate on behalf of New Americans. Teachers and counselors stood up for my family, so I wanted to do the same for those who came after me. I brought recommendations backed up by facts to the school board, and still often found myself ignored. I even went to get my Ph.D. in international education research in 2017 so that I could help find solutions to the problems our schools face. After helping scores of parents navigate the enrollment process, IEPs, and the daily challenges of raising a student in Dayton, I felt that it was time to give struggling parents and students a voice on the board. I want to see a board where parents know they can come with their concerns and find an ally who will help them find a solution. I’m running alongside community organizer Will Smith because I feel the Dayton School Board needs the perspective of parents like us who have had to fight for their kids’ education.
Tell our members about a friend or family member who inspired you to become a leader.
One of the most influential people in my life was my father, who taught me by example that women are strong and can do anything they want. He always pushed back against the prevalent idea that as a woman I should follow a more traditional path. When we lived in Mexico, my father was an architect, so he was part of the middle class between the wealthy people who owned the buildings he designed and the construction workers who built them. When I was a girl, I would play with the children of both the owners and the workers, but when I tried to bring them together to play, they would quickly go back into their separate groups and refuse to interact. I learned at a young age that we live in a society divided by class, race, and gender. Around me I saw this inequality divide and degrade my friends, and my father helped me navigate the tensions in a system that seemed to go against our values. Whenever you’re given the opportunity, he said, help those who haven’t been as lucky as you. Life has blessed me in so many ways, and I’ve been on both sides — those who help and those who need it. My father showed me the joy that can come from helping others, but also taught me to fight against the injustices we face.
Some of you are military veterans, some small business owners, some professionals, some mothers and grandmothers, some homemakers. How did one of these experiences shape who you are as a person and leader?
First and foremost I am an activist. My entire career development evolves around furthering my ability to becoming an effective agent of positive change. I studied Art because I believe it is a universal message and can create empathy among many cultures. I obtained a Masters in Humanities combining political science and art because Art is also a tool for promoting change. Last, I earned a Ph.D. in international education because I believe that promoting an education that fosters critical thinking and nurtures social justice is necessary for sustainable peace in the future. In my community, I’ve built organizations and cultural institutions like the Missing Piece Art Space and the Day of the Dead Festival that bring people together and give them space to express their full selves. My work is motivated by a desire to move us from the world we have to the world we want. I’ve also helped build teams that give people the opportunity to help people coming to this city for asylum. Any time I see a problem, I try to approach it as a community organizer and activist by first bringing people together, listening to their ideas, and collectively finding ways to solve a problem. Whether I’m advocating for my kids, organizing a festival, or helping my friends in the immigrant community, I use this approach. I would like to bring this mindset to the Dayton School Board.
The Matriots PAC has a goal to see 50% of all elected offices in Ohio held by women by 2028. What is your vision for Ohio in 2028?
We need Big Hairy Audacious Goals and people who believe in them. Like many women, I believe in The Matriots goal and intend to do my part to make it happen, whether or not I am elected, by supporting future women who run for office. My vision for Ohio in 2028 is that we become the place where people go to become who they want to be regardless of race, class, gender, or zip code. I want Ohio to be a place where our sons and daughters stay here because we invest in them. This future begins in our education system. Our schools should be places where people find joy, purpose, and community, and should prepare people not just to fulfill the status quo, but to shape their surroundings. What that means in practical terms is that we not only reach a 90% high school graduation rate, but also see half of Ohio’s students graduate from a higher education institution. We cannot encourage students toward this goal if we do not build K-12 systems that provide them with individualized education that helps them identify and pursue their purpose. To build schools like that, we need smaller class sizes, highly-trained and supported teachers, and ample community support at each school facility. We also must address the underlying issues of poverty that makes it harder to give kids the education they deserve. The grand vision for Ohio that I see begins at the smallest level: at the classrooms where we help young Ohioans grow into adults. I am committed to furthering that vision from my position on Dayton School Board.
Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.” What are the top-two issues your community or our state face today?
The inequality in our state has become particularly dire when it comes to public health. We are seeing attacks on women’s rights to reproductive health services, as well as cuts to medical services for low-income neighborhoods. In Dayton we just saw the demolition of Good Samaritan hospital because it was no longer profitable to operate a hospital in a poorer part of the city. Our health and livelihoods should not be at the mercy of an institution that puts profit over people. We are going to lose members of my community because the city is not investing in their health care, a problem that will only get worse as environmental degradation continues to make our neighborhoods more polluted. Our health crisis shows up in the drug addictions that are wrecking families, the over-extended mental health facilities, and the masses of people who can no longer work because of illness. These problems don’t just impact the person who gets sick; they impact all of us. Our lawmakers show a willingness to control people’s bodies — especially if they get pregnant against their will — but don’t seem interested in healing our bodies. That must change. A healthy society begins with healthy people. That takes investment in the health institutions that serve all Ohioans regardless of their economic background.
Tell us something personal about yourself.
I am an artist, an educator, and researcher who likes to practice yoga and karate. My culture is deeply important to me, so I spend a lot of time sharing it with people in my community through things like the Day of the Dead Parade and my workshops. I also get a ton of joy from raising my kids, and feel that I learn something new from them every day. I learned a very valuable lesson on foreign affairs through my 5 and 4 year old daughters, who were fighting over an “invisible carrot” one day. I got tired of their fight so I pretended to grab their invisible carrot and decided to cut it in half so both of them could have some of it. But instead of praising my fair decisions, both girls started crying because I broke their invisible carrot. Lesson #1: Don’t pretend to know how to solve problems without dialoguing with stakeholders first. They know the invisible carrot better than we do.