Lessons on Hope from a School Board Election
Adam Schasel (Idaho '17) shares how running for a seat on Nampa's school board fueled his optimism for civic engagement.
Adam Schasel embodies one of Teach for America Idaho’s core aims: Creating leaders who will continue to have a positive impact on public education long after their two years of corps service concludes.
As a TFA corps member, Schasel taught economics to juniors and seniors at Nampa High School from 2017 to 2019. He then moved to Boise and worked for TFA Idaho as a talent manager until 2022. He moved back to Nampa last year, and when an incumbent school board member in the zone in which Schasel lived decided not to seek reelection, he decided to run.
Agonizingly, Schasel lost the race by a margin of 51 to 49 percentage points, just 39 votes separating him and his much more conservative opponent. He said he learned a great deal running for office and enjoyed the process.
His experience throwing his hat in the ring could be instructive for other TFA alums pondering a run for political office. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What prompted you to run for school board?
Like most Americans, I started following my local school board closely during Covid. I was teaching at the time, and there were all these high-stakes decisions about closures and reopenings that caused quite a bit of controversy. I thought that once Covid stopped being such a huge factor in everyone’s lives, the temperature would get turned down a bit.
But we really didn’t see that happen. Instead, we got a lot of culture war conspiracy theories about what happens in classrooms, driving a lot of energy among patrons and voters in the district. Watching these school board meetings was really frustrating for me.
Administrators and teachers were trying to talk about real tangible dollars and cents issues and actual problems facing the district, like how do we hire and retain the best teachers? How do we improve student achievement? Instead, the conversations that gained momentum were about parents’ rights, gender identity in the curriculum, stuff like that.
When did you decide to run?
When we moved back here, I started thinking about running. The number one constituent I had to get approval from was my girlfriend (Sophie Stokes, another TFA alum). Given the salience school board politics have gained in the national political discourse, we thought there might be some threats to or risks to our safety. We had a really long conversation about that.
These discussions happened over the summer. I also talked to friends, family, people in my network, people who held the seat before, and city council members. I filed three days before the deadline. That gave me about eight weeks to run a campaign.
Having never run for office before, how did you go about doing that with such a short time before the election?
Given the baseline partisanship in the district, I knew it would be an uphill fight. It was a nonpartisan race, but Republicans outnumber Democrats four to one in that district. I was the more Democratic candidate and my opponent was more the Republican.
The people I talked to who had done this before said I needed to raise somewhere in the range of $3,000 to $5,000 for the campaign. Fundraising was actually much easier than I ever anticipated, which I thought was super cool. My goal was to raise $1,000 in the first weekend. And just by social media, no direct contact at all, we nearly tripled that. I had $2,500 by the end of the first weekend. By the end of the campaign, we had raised over $6,000 from about 50 donors.
From the outset, I broke the campaign down into three work streams. Fundraising, of course. And then the ground game of building volunteers, and the media outreach game as well. I hired a senior from the University of Idaho, Ella. She was the best to help me plan and strategize about the ground game. She also pushed me to reach out to students to do a letter-writing campaign for the Idaho Statesman and other newspapers. That was beautiful. I was amazed at students’ willingness to do that.
For media, I created a Facebook page and tried to attract as many followers as I could. I really made an effort not to highlight what I call troll issues as part of my campaign because I knew that if this race were about gender and critical race theory and all that stuff, we would lose.
On the other hand, if the race focused on teacher recruitment and retention, student achievement, and mental health problems in school districts, those are issues that were going to resonate with voters, make a concrete impact on patrons’ lives, and be something we could win on.
“It's so, so easy to look at the news about the community you live in, the state you live in, where our country is right now and get depressed. And yeah, all that stuff is there. But there is no better antidote than just going out and talking to people in your neighborhoods.”
What was the most challenging thing about this experience for you?
Voter engagement was a big bottleneck. People in my network were very willing to give me money, which was great, and I am super grateful for that. But not many people were willing to go out and talk to people, which I totally get. That’s a big ask. But it is hard to turn money into votes any other way.
I have to say that I would never have come as close as I did without the TFA network. Most of my donations came from people in that network, as well as most of my volunteers. What’s a little disappointing is there are so many more people out there who are part of this network, and if I could have gotten just six more volunteers and knocked on 100 more doors, that might have been enough to win.
How did the experience leave you feeling overall?
It's so, so easy to look at the news about the community you live in, the state you live in, where our country is right now and get depressed. And yeah, all that stuff is there. But there is no better antidote than just going out and talking to people in your neighborhoods.
Almost every single person who went out and knocked on doors for me was genuinely shocked by how much fun they had and how not hard it ended up being—the nice conversations they had with random strangers who didn't agree with them.
It really goes to show that if you frame the stakes and the conversation the right way—tell voters what's important to you, what you're running on, and the problems you see—you will be pleasantly surprised. There is so much more ground for agreement than disagreement than what you might have originally thought.