IZZY: I will start off by introducing myself for the listeners out there. My name is Izzy Alexander. I am a senior at Fisher's High School this year when my brother and I were approached to do this interview from a member of the community. We were really thrilled about the idea of getting to talk to all the school board candidates and increase education in our community. Something civic education is something we were both very passionate about so I'm very honored to be here today. If you wanted to start by introducing yourself as well, that'd be awesome.
SARAH: I am Sarah Donsbach and I'm running for the Delaware Township seat for the HSE school board and I was equally thrilled to get your email. I think it's great that you guys are wanting to do this. I was actually a little bit bummed when I learned that Larry wasn't going to do them anymore because I listen to a lot of podcasts and I was like, man my one chance to be on a podcast and now it's not going to happen. So I was really excited on two fronts on that.
IZZY: That's awesome. Do you want to tell us about yourself within HSE schools? Do you have kids in the district that kind of stuff.
SARAH: I grew up in Carmel, so I have been a Hamilton County resident except for the time I was at Purdue and I lived in DC for a little while. So I have lived around here my whole time my whole life. I have five kids and all five of them were in the district last year. I have a freshman that actually is attending Purdue Polytechnic High School in Broad Ripple this year, he wants to go to Purdue for engineering so that just really made sense for him. And then I have a seventh-grade boy at Riverside Junior High and a fifth-grade girl at Riverside intermediate and I have two 4th grade girls at New Britain Elementary. So we kind of run the gamut of schools at all levels right now. We're closing in on the end of elementary school, which is sad. My husband and I had been married for five years. I attended Purdue University and I have a bachelor's degree from Purdue. I worked for the state of Indiana for seven years in different capacities and different agencies in the state. I now work for a small family law firm in Downtown Indianapolis. Our kids play a ton of sports, our boys both pay travel baseball , my step daughter plays travel softball and other one does travel soccer out of Grand Park and our other one did competitive cheer and is going to take a break and just do some local gymnastics this year. I did ask my husband what one of the funniest facts about me was and he his response was you're scared of chickens. So
SARAH: yeah, I was attacked by my aunt's chickens when I was little on their Farm. I went to like grab an egg I shouldn't have grabbed and the chicken pecked and me and from now on chickens and I just don’t get along
IZZY: it's a running joke in my family my Aunt got some chickens this year because she also lives on a farm in North Carolina and it's a running joke that she adopts all sorts of injured animals because all of her chickens are either feral or she saw them at the store and was like, oh I can't leave them. No one will want to buy them if they have broken legs. So she has a bunch of broken chickens. I'm sure they would still peck you though. I've heard they're mean.
SARAH: My sister lives in Oregon and she has chickens, but most of them have grown old and are no longer with us, but she does still have one chicken that is 14 years old.
Sarah: It’s just this weird incredible chicken that just hanging on forever.
IZZY: So obviously you have a lot of kids in the district. So you sort of know what's going on at all levels.
IZZY: Do you think is considering the student voice in the school board? Do you think that's important to you?
SARAH: I do I actually think the student voice is the most important voice that we should be listening to. We are primarily elected to represent students of the district. While they aren't the ones that get to vote for us unfortunately, they are the ones that we are elected to represent. Public schools and the public school system in our district is here to provide education to the students, so when we look at that sort of picture, the student voice is should be one of the most important voices that we listen to. Obviously teachers voices are also important and that's a large important group that we should also be listening to, and the families of the students that go there but first and foremost, we are there to represent the best interest of the students and the students first. So I think that the student voice is the most important one that we really need to listen to.
IZZY: How do you plan on doing that as a school board member?
SARAH: You know, In my experience in state government I have found that small group meetings or you know Town Hall like meetings as you might call them now were always really helpful and any sort of big decision that we made in the state. We always went around and had Town Hall meetings and communities all over the state before we did anything. To get feedback and sometimes things that we thought were going to be really easy to move forward with we found out. Yeah that might be really easy for any Indianapolis but down and Hope Indiana that's not going to really work for them. So, I would really like to see our board members. I mean for me; I don't necessarily know how much time our current board members spend in schools or meeting with students. It may be a lot more than I think that it is so. I don't want to say that none of them go and visit schools or talk to students because that would be incorrect. But I would really like to us to have these sorts of meetings in different schools. Specifically, the high schools where the students have more formulated opinions and concerns that I think need to be heard. Those sorts of meetings would be different obviously on the elementary school level where it would be fun to go and talk to a lot of elementary school kids and see what they think the important stuff that we should be working on is, But I think more so that might be more for the parents that that's at that point than it would be for necessarily the students. Even in our government classes in high school. I think that's a great opportunity for us to talk to kids and understand what their concerns are and what their needs are going forward and also just get to experience what they're experiencing in their day at the schools.
IZZY: That would be so awesome.
SARAH: I think it would be really fun.
IZZY: Yeah, it's been interesting as I've done these interviews. I've realized from school board members that it's a lot harder for them to get in contact with students than I thought. It was at least in the fact that they can't invite themselves to club meetings or show up in class Uninvited that sort of thing. So definitely in the future I know students should be reaching out to board members more rather than expecting them to reach out to us first, but I think communication goes both ways. So.
SARAH: Right, exactly, and if it's going to the administration of the school, whether it's the principal or you know, the lead teachers for each grades or departments to say just so you know for whatever clubs you have or classes you have you know, I'm available. I would love to come in and talk to your students. If it if it works in the curriculum you're doing or if any of the clubs have any interest in talking, here's my contact information and I'm more than available and willing to come and talk to them, and I think a lot of the times the teachers and other students probably may not know that that is an option that they can actually ask for that sort of communication or those sorts of meetings. And you know, I think that would be a first great opportunity for communication on all different levels.
IZZY: What would be your top three priorities when elected to the school board? Essentially? What's the platform you're running on this year?
SARAH: You know, one of the biggest pieces is going to be maximizing the funding we receive in the State's next biennial budget with the decreasing enrollment that we're seeing because of the pandemic in our schools across the board in HSE, you know, we have the concern that there was going to be big cuts to the funding that we get from the state and we need as a board need to be in Very constant contact with our state legislators making sure that they're fighting for every dollar that we can possibly get back to our district and understanding How those cut potential cuts are going to affect Curriculum, classrooms, teachers, clubs, you know classes that aren't necessarily the necessity core classes that we've been able to provide and how we go about not losing those programs by the potential loss in funding. So, you know, the budget is going to be I was I would hate to say that the money is one of the top priorities but it is considering where we are and the end of the referendum that is coming up as well at the same time, you know, the budget piece is going to be a really big piece and We have to make sure that we're fighting for like I said for every dollar that we can get.
SARAH: The other issue is I would really like to see our district dig deep and address the diversity issues that our district and Community has been plagued with and address diversity of all kinds like t racial, religious, ethnic, social and financial diversity. It's not one or the other it's all of it because a lot of the times they're really interconnected and someone who grew up in this community, I mean one town over and It's been here for a long time, you know? My parents moved here in the 70s and it was around then and it's still around now and why we like to think it might be better I think deep down its not necessarily that much better. And so I think we really need to fight that one and take that challenge on head on because that's really the only way that we're not going to continue always to be saying well it's going to obviously not be fixed in in one time but I would like us to make strides and take steps forward so we're not always standing at the bottom of the staircase saying well, how are we going to address this issue? How are we going to address this issue? I'd like us to keep trying to take Little Steps here and there to make our way up the staircase to make things better versus putting a Band-Aid on it and saying well that's good for right now until something happens, and we have to address it again.
SARAH: I think the last one probably would be getting Community involvement back into our district, and whether it's been positive or negative because it's been that way on both sides the pandemic and how we have addressed the opening of schools has divided our community even more than it was before and while people are becoming much more vocal, which is great. I would like to see us take that engagement and you know harness it for, this sounds weird to say but hard is it for good and for Community Building versus fighting with each other and having Facebook groups that are open the schools and Facebook groups that are don't open the schools and constant fighting with each other and blaming the teachers but supporting the teachers and just to try to find a way whether it's like I said through some of those sort of town hall meetings and people just need to voice their concerns which again in our current situation is difficult with large group gatherings not being something that is really encouraged but I think building that sense of community again is really important.
IZZY: So we just touched on it actually but this has been such a remarkably unique year in regards to public health and safety current pandemic situation. How would you plan to ensure the safety of every student and staff member in our district?
SARAH: That’s a really tricky question. Yeah, you know, I'm not a health care professional nor an epidemiologist, you know, my degree from Purdue was in political science. I would like to see our District to continue to allow remote learning for the for the entire school year for those families that really need it because they are most at risk, whether it's the students, or if it's the family were the grandparent who might be diabetic is the primary caregiver for the student and just the risk for that is so high that we still have a way to encourage and allow that remote learning to happen, even if we open all of our schools up to a hundred percent. I think we also need to make sure that were consistently monitoring the data from local and State Health officials, and we need to pick one data point so we're comparing Apples to Apples. Every time we have the discussion and we're not comparing apples that in one meeting we talked about this data, but at the next meeting we're talking about this data and this is our new metric we're going off of which is completely different from the old metric because that's how people in our community are getting confused and it's like but wait last time you said that we were going off of this number and that number is trending into the orange, but now we're going to go off this number which is closer to the green and so we need pick a constant data point that were either getting from the CDC or from the State Health Department and continue to measure on that metric and be transparent and how we are determining what these numbers are and what metric were actually measuring off of you know, so for that like I said, I don't I wish I had the magic answer of how to make sure that every student and teacher and staff are in the buildings all stayed healthy and nobody got sick. But if I had that I would.
Be a lot busier than I am now. I think that's just, I'm big on facts and data and so I would just look to that to guide me and how I would make decisions on how to make sure that we keep everybody in the safest environment for them.
IZZY: Awesome. We also talked about Equity a little bit earlier when you talked about the diversity problem in our community, obviously this year. We've also seen a huge focus on equity in tandem with the Resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, even locally. Do you plan to advance equity and equality within our district as a school board member and if so, how would you go about doing that?
SARAH: Yes, I would. I think it's really important. Excuse me, as I stated earlier, you know, I believe our district has had good intentions when trying to address this issue, and I think it's imperative that we fill the chief Equity officer position that was we vacated in our district last week and the person that needs to fill it has someone who's action and results-oriented. Dr. Rivera is an incredible person and you know, I'm very sad that we, our district lost her.
We need to fill the position and we need to fill it with someone like her and it needs to be supported through the entire district and we need to give that person the opportunity to actually affect change in the district and how they decide to do that would be, really I would refer to them and their expertise and doing these sorts of things because I myself and while I'm aware of it, I grew up in Carmel, Indiana. I'm not going to say that I didn't grow up in the epitome of privilege because I did and someone who can't admit that is sometimes, I think part of the issue that we have in our community. And so I would look to someone whose life experiences are different than mine, that can show me how best that we move forward to make sure that we're continuing to advance these issues in our district.
IZZY: Beyond filling the position. Is there anything else that you would even hypothetically want to implement into the district?
SARAH: You know at this point, I don't know. I don't have enough information yet on what we can and can't do and where some of those laws and rules go, but I would know that I would want to do everything I could and that I was able to do within the rules and regulations of the district that I'm allowed to do. Whether those are state or federal regulations, I guess they answered the questions to be determined because I don't really have enough information yet, but I'm definitely in information gathering mode on those sorts of topics.
IZZY: Awesome. So yeah, it's kind of a curveball. I don't know the answer to that either. Just wanted to see this is an opportunity for you to basically say promote you for a little bit. Why are you the best choice for our school board? What makes you most qualified in your opinion?
SARAH: This one's always really hard for me because my whole career I was always the staffer behind the candidate or behind the commissioner or the secretary the you know that person and so I'm not really good at self-promotion, which I found is somewhat problematic when you're running for public office. But I will say that, you know, I have five kids in all different areas of our schools, and they all learn differently, and they all have different struggles and strengths. Some are really good at math and some really struggle with math. Some are crazy readers that are blowing through chapter books and others struggle to even read one chapter book. You know, so I get where it's not one size fits all our district, not every kid has the same needs and can go on the same path and be equally successful. I myself was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade. And so, I have a unique perspective when it comes to some of our struggling students and what some of our families who are right on the brink of their student necessarily doesn't meet the standard to get that little bit of extra help but they're right below the level where they're not meeting their full potential and to try to figure out how we don't let those students fall through the cracks. There is a woman actually from our community reached out to me through my Facebook page just yesterday and was talking to me and sent me which I haven't had the opportunity to read them all yet, and I'm excited to finish reading them three or four articles that show that you know kids that are struggling readers or that are dyslexic a lot of times turn into teenagers who suffer from depression because they're constantly feeling like they can't catch up and they can't kind of get to that next level and everything is so much easier for everyone else and but yet same time they're too embarrassed to talk about it. And so, you know, I just have a different perspective on those sorts of things. I'm not sure that a lot of other candidates have, and the other piece of it is I don't have a Personal Agenda to promote, I don’t, I'm in it for the students and I’m in it for the teachers and in it for the families and not for any sort of personal belief that I have or any feeling I personally have against or for policy in the district. I just want to make sure that our district and our. Schools can be a place where all our students can go and feel safe and feel supported and can get the education that they deserve to get and same thing with our teachers and our staff, that they feel listened to and they feel heard and they don't feel like they can't ask a hard question to an administrator or even reach out to a school board member because they're worried that that might get them in trouble with any sort of other higher level in the district. If they don't go through the proper chain of command, I want to see our district grow in a way that we become more of a community and less like a bunch of schools that all just happen to be in the same town or now City, I guess Working for the state for seven years for many different agencies that had their own problems. I worked at the BMV for a while, and there was a lot of branches all over the place and trying to figure out how to make broad policies for the whole agency that didn't alienate anyone part of those communities, gives me a unique perspective on how we can move forward so I would say with all those things are why I'm running and why I think I'm probably the best candidate for The Delaware Township seat.
IZZY: Awesome. So that was the end of the all candidate questions. I do have a couple personal questions about your website and platform. I did read through your website and I saw you worked within the Daniels administration at least you said that on your website and have experience within public service, which we have talked about. What's a project that you worked on in public service that you're the most proud of do you think?
SARAH: That was actually really easy for me to answer. I worked as the legislative director for the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute in 2007 and as legislative director, you are basically the lobbyist for the state, you go and you lobbied the legislature on behalf of the agency you work for as a state employee, but you have the same job as a as a private lobbyists would that represents an entity and that session was the only year I worked there and I was hired specifically to pass one piece of legislation , which was before 2007 in the state of Indiana if you drove a car that had a truck license plate not a passenger plate but a truck license plate the white ones that say TK and have the numbers after you were exempt from wearing your seat belt, And you could put truck plates on trucks SUVs minivans and full-sized vans because of how their, it’s kind of nuanced, but how their certificate of origin is you can put it you can pay an extra at that point $9 to put a truck plate on your car . So you could have someone that has a mini van full of kids, that no one is required by law to wear a seatbelt in the car, and the same at the same time in Indiana before 2007, you only had to wear your seatbelt if you were in the front two seats of the car. If you were in the backseat of the car, you were not required to wear a seatbelt, which is how people got away with riding in the bed pickup trucks.
So my job was to Lobby the legislature to pass a law to close that loophole in our state law. We did pass it that year and so now in Indiana no matter what plate you have on your truck or your car whether it's a truck plate or passenger plate you have to wear your seatbelt, and no matter what seat you're sitting in in the car, you have to wear your seatbelt. I still get emails from the national highway traffic safety administration every year that tells me basically how many additional lives were saved because people wore their seat belts in the state of Indiana and I actually looked it up because I couldn't remember but from 2005 to the percentage of people and trucks that wore seat belts was 56% and in 2014 will say because this is how long this one goes was 79% We went up 20% there and we went in cars from 88 percent to 93 percent. They've only gone up more since then and so for me, that's the the one thing that I'm proudest of I worked there it was because it was when you work first for state government or federal government a lot of the time you don't really get to see how it impacts individual lives sometimes and to be able to see that number every year for me makes me really proud of how hard I worked there just to make that change, and people might get really mad at me because I don't like to wear their seatbelts, but that's okay. I'm okay with that.
IZZY: But you got their skills from working on that project that will translate well to you being on the school board?
SARAH: Yeah, it was not an easy Bill to pass especially in the more rural communities originally there was the loophole in the law because the farmers would say well then we don't need to put our seat belts on to, you know Drive between our fields or it's more of a hassle to be able to have to do that while I'm doing this driving from here to there and one field to the other so it was piece of legislation died multiple times during the legislative process and we had to resurrect it. It was a lot of give-and-take and it was a lot of compromise and negotiating and appealing to people's Different interests. We're not doing this to penalize anyone we're doing it because we need to show that we can do this, It's a lot of lives are going to be saved every year from this and kids that grow up watching a parents put their seat belts and something Like ninety three percent more likely to be seatbelt wearers their whole life, it’s a habit that starts at a really young age and it's one of those things where you watch the adult in your life do it as a kid, that’s just what you continue to do because that’s what’s always been done. And so I think being able to build consensus around that sort of Controversial topic and to be able to have difficult conversations with people and when we still didn't agree at the end to be able to say, okay. I respect your decision. I respect your position, you know, you want any more information I’m happy to give you more but I respect where you are and we were able to part ways and you know the next year when I worked for the BMV the next year we were able to work really well on another piece of legislation Together. So even when things or when the conversation is difficult and you don't agree, you know, I feel like it gave me good experience on how to work in those difficult situations and how to build relationships on other on opposite sides of issues and be able to have constructive conversations to be able to move forward whether it's together or separately. Which I'm not sure on I would have gotten anywhere else.
IZZY: Well, thank you for your work and passing the seatbelt law.
SARAH: I even have a pen that the governor used to sign it into law.
IZZY: Nice. Also on your website you have a statement that says you want to ensure every child gets quality education that HSE has a reputation for and you're absolutely right. We do have a very prestigious reputation for quality education I'm wondering could you expand upon the term every child that you use there?
SARAH: Sure, I would be happy to, to me every child is every child. It is every child no matter the color of their skin, the color of their hair, whether they live with Grandma, or whether they live with Mom, or whether they you know are a situation where they were living in foster care. Whether their parents live in Geist or whether they live in one of our multiple very nice apartment communities. You know, and it doesn't matter to me every student is
whether they identify with a different pronoun or gender than they may be stated on the birth certificate or you know different my kids go to New Britain so the diverse population there is fantastic. I love it, that's when my kids go there. There's different religions, there's different Cultures that that are there and so every student is every student no matter what their difference from someone else is if they are a student that attends our school, they deserve the same education as every other student that walks through that door. No matter of any circumstance that they may be in. They all should have access to a learning environment that they feel safe and they feel supported that they're not scared to go to school or dread going to school or come home and are just devastated because you know yet again, they feel like they can't be their true selves because they don't feel like they would be accepted and I would love nothing more than for that not to happen anymore. And so when I say every kid I mean every kid.
IZZY: Those are the last questions that I have for you. I've left this space open for candidates to talk anymore about themselves clear anything up ask me any questions flip the tables.
SARAH: Sure, So are you are currently a high school student?
IZZY: Yes. I'm a senior this year.
SARAH: Are you Fishers or HSE?
SARAH: My side of Fishers.
SARAH: What do you want to do when you grow up?
IZZY: God help me if I know I'm figuring it out.