Former chief of staff to Michelle Obama wins school board seat in Iowa

November 3, 2021
Des Moines Public Schools voters chose Teree Caldwell-Johnson (left), Jackie Norris (top middle), Maria Alonzo-Diaz (top right), Kim Martorano (bottom middle) and Jenna Knox to fill the five open school board seats.
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Jackie Norris, a newcomer to school board politics who broke fundraising records in the Des Moines metro area, has been elected to the Des Moines School Board. 

Her victory helps cement an all-female school board that will govern the state’s largest school district. 

The former chief of staff for former first lady Michelle Obama, who also served as CEO of Goodwill of Central Iowa, raised $28,253 as a first-time candidate.

“I think I have a set of experiences and am known in this community, and have delivered results for this community,” Norris said. “And I think people stood up for public education (and) the importance of having great leaders.”

Also joining the school board based on unofficial results as an at-large member is Maria Alonzo-Diaz. Jenna Knox, who ran unopposed, will represent District 2 on the board. Incumbents Kim Martorano and Teree Caldwell-Johnson will retain their seats.  

Related:Des Moines metro school board races draw five times the campaign cash as prior cycle

Across the country and in Iowa, school board races have seen an increase in attention due to controversies around school districts’ COVID-19 mitigation efforts including mask mandates, and how U.S. history and race are being taught. The Des Moines school board race has largely avoided those controversies but incoming members will be tasked with the district’s ongoing pandemic response and improving academic outcomes for students, especially Black males. 

Martorano, the incumbent, held on to her director seat beating Shelley Skuster to represent neighborhoods that include Roosevelt and Hoover high schools.

“I’m thankful and so grateful to my supporters who believe in student outcomes and who really believe in what’s best for the students of Des Moines,” Martorano said. “And now is when the real work begins.”

Skuster’s campaign came under scrutiny last month after it was revealed Jami Bassman Ahart, the Des Moines Public Schools’ superintendent’s wife, donated to her campaign. Election finance records show Bassman Ahart donated $450. 

At the time, Skuster said she would have no problem recusing herself if a conflict of interest arose during the course of her board duties. 

For subscribers:Des Moines schools’ superintendent’s wife donated to school board candidate’s campaign

Norris and Alonzo-Diaz will replace outgoing at-large board members Rob Barron and Kyrstin Delagardelle. At-large members can live anywhere in the district. Lloyd Elam also ran for an at-large seat. 

Knox, who ran unopposed for the director District No. 2 seat, will take over for outgoing board member Kalyn Cody. District No. 2 includes North High School. Long-time board member Caldwell-Johnson ran unopposed for the director district No. 4 position. District No. 4 includes Lincoln High School.

Previously: Here are the 7 people running in the Des Moines Public Schools board of education election

Second all-female Iowa school board

Tuesday’s election marks the second time in recent years that women have made up an entire Iowa school board.

The Iowa Association of School Boards does not keep historical data about the gender make up of school boards, but a July survey shows there was one five-member board where all the seats are held by women. In comparison, there were approximately 13 all-male boards in July.  

The Des Moines School Board has been majority female in the recent past, said Phil Roeder, Des Moines schools’ spokesperson. Barron was the only male on the board before Cody was elected in 2019.  

The incoming board members will be sworn in during the Nov. 16 board meeting.

The Cheat Sheet: Get education news delivered to your inbox every week. 

Voters approve revenue purpose statement 

Voters also approved a revenue purpose statement that dictates how the district will spend sales tax money known as Secure an Advanced Vision for Education or SAVE Funds until 2050. 

The funds can be used for a number of district expenses including building projects, technology and school safety. 

Previously:Des Moines schools will ask voters to approve new ways to spend tax revenue

Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at facebook.com/svhernandezreporter.





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