Raaheela Ahmed isn’t looking to take a potential seat in Maryland’s Prince George’s County Board of Education District 5 as a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things in the political spectrum.
To the 22-year-old Indian American Muslim, the Prince George’s County Board of Education position is the biggest and brightest post.
“I just want to do what is best for the students of Prince George's County Public Schools,” Ahmed, a Bowie, Md., resident, told India-West. “It is where my heart is.”
Though only in her early 20s, Ahmed has previously served while attending the University of Maryland, appointed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley for a one-year term in 2014 through 2015 on the Board of Regents, which oversees 12 public universities across the state of Maryland (I-W Aug. 20, 2014 http://bit.ly/1kVQcEQ).
“Being student regent definitely gave me an understanding of board member responsibility, bureaucracy and activism,” she explained. “Many of the responsibilities I had on that board are transferable to the board position I seek now, like oversight of the CEO, creating/amending policy, approving a billion dollar budget.”
Additionally, the Board of Regents position likely triggered another passion in Ahmed, who said she is running for the seat because she loves to serve.
“Education, advocacy and youth empowerment are my passions. I do not think enough is being done to engage the community and push an agenda focused on student success,” she said. “Prince George's County Schools have had a bad perception for many years now and we've had little improvement in relieving that stigma. I think it's time for a change. I hope to bring that young, diverse perspective to the board.”
Among the four candidates who ran in the April 26 primary for the county’s District 5 seat, Ahmed was the top vote-getter, pulling in 9,624 – or 36 percent – of the votes (see I-W May 6, 2016, issue).
“I didn't expect as much support as I received, especially since I did not have the support of any sitting elected officials,” Ahmed said, adding the results were very humbling. “It was a true win due to hard work and grassroots efforts. I am so thankful to my team of volunteers and supporters for giving me such an overwhelming victory.”
In the November general election, she’ll try to beat Cheryl Landis, who was the primary runner-up with 8,072 votes, or 30.5 percent. Incumbent Jeana Jacobs finished third place in the voting with just more than 6,000 votes. Robert Johnson earned just 10 percent of the vote, coming in last in the primary.
Among the issues Ahmed is campaigning to fix are community engagement, school safety and transparency and accountability.
The Indian American, believing in the idiom “It takes a village to raise a child,” stressed the importance of the community to educate the children.
“Whether we like it or not, our schools are responsible for teaching hard subjects like math and science as well as intangible skills like work ethic and acceptable societal behaviors,” she told India-West. “It takes effort from all stakeholders in building our schools and our community.”
She added the importance of parental involvement in schools, as well as developing partnerships with universities and businesses to enhance the progress of the schools and students.
Specifically, within community engagement, Ahmed said she wants to “spearhead the establishment of active formal parent-teacher organizations in all schools, corporate partnerships to provide internship and other academic opportunities for our students, and personally engaging in community outreach as I have been doing on the campaign trail.”
Noting a personal situation while she attended high school at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in nearby Greenbelt, Md., Ahmed stressed the importance of school safety, utilizing a two-prong effort of reactive and proactive.
“In the reactive sense, schools must hold the appropriate individuals responsible for crimes and injustices that are committed. Letting generally unacceptable behavior slide, under-reporting or discouraging reporting to maintain better metrics should not be tolerated,” she said. “In the proactive sense, security measures should be in place for each school, depending on the different needs for different schools. Products like Text-to-Them (an anonymous crime reporting system) could be adapted in our schools to ensure safety as well.”
Admittedly, Prince George’s County has a history of corrupt elected officials, mismanagement of money and general public distrust, she said. Thus, transparency and accountability are high on her list of issues as she campaigns for the seat.
“I believe fiscal transparency is needed with the school budget so that individuals know not only how their taxpayer dollars are being spent, but whether that spending has a good return on investment given demographic metrics,” Ahmed opined. “Understanding what works and what doesn’t will allow (the county schools) to align resources and funding efficiently and increase academic excellence.”
Should Ahmed maintain the momentum gained from the primary victory and win the board seat, she would become the youngest Indian American elected to the post in the state’s history.
Ahmed, whose father and extended family on both her father and mother’s side hail from Hyderabad, was born and raised in Bowie.
Her father, Shukoor Ahmed, is a well-known entrepreneur and angel investor. He is the founder and CEO of Bowie-based V-Empower Inc., and of several websites that enable voter and candidate organizing in the U.S. and India. Her mother, Nabeela Ahmed, is a pharmacist for more than 20 years.
The young woman went on to attend high school at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., and matriculated to the University of Maryland in College Park where she earned a B.S. in finance and a B.A. in economics.
Currently, she serves as a federal financial consultant at Grant Thornton LLP, a court appointed special advocate in Prince George’s County, and a henna artist at Amtul’s Henna Body Art.