James Aguilar (left) and Taylor Sims
All San Francisco State University students are interested in education, of course. That’s why they’re University students. But two Gators — James Aguilar and Taylor Sims — are taking their love for learning even further. They’re both helping set the course for others’ education as board members for their respective school districts.
Aguilar and Sims are among the youngest trustees ever for their local school districts. Although they each have their own unique story of how they were elected, they share a common goal: a desire to serve their communities.
Sims, who will graduate this semester with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Africana Studies, is a school board trustee in the town where she grew up: Pittsburg, California. As a trustee, she’s focused on understanding her community’s needs to help shape Pittsburg Unified School District’s vision, goals and policies. Although Sims was sworn into office just a few months ago, she has already set many goals and priorities. One of them is to provide more mental health resources to students.
“At a school board meeting, there were multiple students who expressed, especially during this time of COVID-19 and distance learning, that they’re having mental health issues,” she said. “There’s a lot going on in the world, so they need help to better focus in the classroom.”
Another priority for Sims is advocating for ethnic studies in K-12 education. This is vital for Pittsburg because it’s a diverse community, she says. “It’s important that we don’t erase history, we don’t whitewash other cultures’ histories and we actually celebrate and appreciate all of the cultures that are in Pittsburg,” Sims added.
Sims says that she learned a lot about her culture through her Africana Studies classes at SF State but wishes she received this type of education while she was going to school in Pittsburg. “We’re not taught that in high school, which is why we’re now pushing for ethnic studies to be implemented into Pittsburg schools,” she said.
SF State Political Science junior Aguilar is also a school board trustee for the San Leandro Unified School District. He says community and student engagement are his priorities.
As a trustee, Aguilar listens to the communities he serves — virtually during the pandemic — and uses what he learns about their needs to shape how the district supports student learning. Recently, he and his colleagues have been doing that by surveying the community on reopening schools for in-person instruction.
“We’re going into our community and asking how we can navigate conversations on reopening,” said Aguilar. “With that, we created a reopening readiness dashboard that’s been helpful in creating the vision for what the future will look like.”
Another example of community engagement is when Aguilar reached out to his constituents following the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January. “It really has been a crucial time for us to come together and support our students, staff and the larger community. We want them to know that the district is with them,” Aguilar said. “We have to create a space for them to make change happen, to impact the future.” Engaging the community and students after a pivotal moment in U.S. history is critical to staying ahead as a district, he added.
“I plan on reaching out more often and really understanding what others are feeling at this time. More perspective will only help us,” Aguilar said. “In an ideal world, I want to know that everyone’s mentally OK because I know for sure I wasn’t at some points in the last year. A lot has happened. Stress and frustration is high.”
The students are also serving their communities in other elected or appointed positions. Aguilar currently serves as a board member for the SF State Foundation. Sims was recently elected as a California Assembly District 14 Democratic Party delegate.