NDTC Trainee Spotlight - West Virginia Teachers and Changemakers - National Democratic Training Committee

Update – All of these teachers have won their primary election held on May 8th. They will be moving on to the general election.

Have you noticed a sea of red in your news feed lately? For months, my Facebook feed has featured photos of thousands of teachers dressed in red, marching out of their classrooms and to their state Capitols to demand adequate resources for education.

The West Virginia teachers strike launched the nation-wide movement in February of this year. Since, it has inspired teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado to follow suit.

This month’s trainee spotlight features three West Virginia educators.  They are taking a giant step further than requesting funds from their state legislature–they’re campaigning to be members of their state legislature.

They want to bring teachers’ voices into the Capitol and make the case for education funding (and so much more) from inside the halls of power.

NDTC is extremely proud to have spent St. Patrick’s Day in Charleston, West Virginia training these amazing educators-turned-candidates.

Brianne Larisse Solomon Sandy Adams Shaw Tom Tull
West Virginia House of Delegates, District 14  District 28, West Virginia House of Delegates West Virginia House of Delegates, District 38
www.brianne4housewv.com https://www.facebook.com/ShawforDelegate https://www.facebook.com/TomTullWV/

How has your work as a teacher impacted your decision to run for office?

Brianne: Each year in West Virginia, January not only signifies the beginning of our part-time legislative session, but it signifies a new attack on teachers, public schools, and our insurance. Within the last four years, I have seen our curriculum change, graduation requirements change, and requirements for teacher credentials fluctuate. The kids are confused, the teachers are confused, and it seems we are disrespected at every turn.

The budget cuts are horrendous. I am an art teacher and see 165 kids each day, all school year. My budget FOR THE YEAR is about $250. The math is not promising. It results in me spending hundreds of dollars out of pocket, using sites such as DonorsChoose, and begging people for their old supplies or donations of supplies to my students.

How has your work as a teacher influenced the policy issues you want to tackle in office?

Sandy: For the past several years public education has been under attack in all of the “red” states. I’m passionate about fighting for education, including fighting against the harmful education policies Republicans are pushing, including:

  1. School of choice” (i.e., charter schools). Charter schools are just another way to bust the unions, create a wider divide between the wealthy and poor, and eliminating standards within the curriculum. West Virginia cannot geographically or economically support charter schools, and I will fight to keep them out of the state.  
  2. Republicans are trying to change teaching certification requirements to allow less qualified teachers in the classroom. This past year they tried to pass a law that would have allowed any 18 year-old high school graduate with two letters of recommendation to teach. I can’t imagine that!
  3. This past legislative session, Republicans closed the Education and Arts Office and fired the Secretary of the Arts! This is one of the most tragic losses to West Virginia education. I will fight to get that office opened again and to name another secretary. We must keep the arts in schools in order to offer a well-rounded, complete education to our students.

These things that are happening in West Virginia are happening all across the country and particularly in the “red” states. You’ve seen the walk-outs that started with us and then Oklahoma, Kentucky and now Arizona. You will see more before it’s over.

I’m really proud of the nationwide movement that we started. It’s long overdue.

What inspired you to run for office?

Brianne: ​As a teacher in one of our state’s more underserved areas, I see first-hand the ways that decisions made in the legislature affect my students and their families. Some of the decisions have also adversely affected me and my career. At some point, after citing problems that exist, one must make the decision to formulate a solution. In this case, I was inspired to be​ the change I wished to see.

Tom: The anti-working families agenda of the Republican legislative leadership compelled me to run.

Tell us about yourself?

Brianne: I have been teaching dance since 1997 and started teaching art in public schools in 2002, combining my background as a classically trained dancer with my Master’s degree in Art Education. I am one of the founding members of the West Virginia Dance Education Organization, the first professional development organization for dance educators and dancers in the state. Within my own school I am in my seventh year as the Faculty Senate Treasurer and am currently on the Leadership Team. I am the sponsor of the Conservation Club, the GEAR UP Student Success Society, and a Young Democrats Club that is being chartered.

I was honored to be in the trenches with my fellow public school personnel and public employees during the 2018 WV Work Stoppage (or what some have coined the Teachers’ Strike). Finally, I am proud to be a member of the Mason County Democratic Women and the Putnam County Young Democrats.

Sandy: I’m retiring at the end of this school year after teaching art in public schools for 38 years.  I have a Bachelor of Science in Art Ed., a Master of Art in Education, and National Board Certification. I mentor new teachers and National Board candidates, and advise Art Education majors and student teachers. Also, I  teach community art classes.

Tom: I am a retired school teacher and administrator. Over the 35 years of my career I experienced the relentless attacks of Republicans who want to reduce public investment in education. It is essential that we end those attacks and reverse the gutting of public education.

What change do you hope to make in your community?

Brianne: ​It sounds cliche, but I want to instill a sense of hope and justice in my district. I want to help bring my community out of West Virginia’s opioid epidemic while being a voice for working families. I hope to help our schools thrive and bring business opportunities to our district.

Sandy: We must find a solution to the opioid crisis in our state. We need more facilities and comprehensive rehab/treatment programs, job-placement programs for the people once they’re clean to help them build their lives back, and resources for the family members taking care of the children of addicts while they are in treatment. There needs to be a permanent funding stream for the Public Employees Insurance Agency. We need to reverse the “Right to Work” law so workers have their voices again.

Tom: Working with other legislators, I hope to pass legislation that increases resources for public education, public safety and economic development.

How Have the NDTC Trainings Helped You Prepare for Your Election?

Brianne: ​NDTC has helped me strategize in ways that aren’t my natural line of thinking, and they’ve connected me with resources I need to succeed. In particular, the training helped me with fundraising prospecting and asking for donations.

Sandy: I have been an activist and helped on campaigns before, but I’ve never run for office so I had no idea where or how to start a campaign. These trainings explain every aspect of developing and running a successful campaign. I didn’t know how I would ever ask people for money but the steps outlined in “Making the Ask” make it much easier.

Which online course or section of the in-person training you attended would you most recommend to other candidates?

Brianne: ​The in-person Fundraising 101 session is great. Fundraising is the thing most people dread, but the way NDTC broke it down makes it easier to digest. It’s formulaic over emotional, and I think that helps people look at the daunting prospect of fundraising more favorably. Once the information and how to prospect potential new donors was given to me, it was simply a matter of plugging in my own variables. It turns a gargantuan task into several do-able steps.

Tom: Every candidate is unique, so the “So You Think You Want to Run” orientation course is a must. It helps a candidate identify strengths and weaknesses so the candidate can choose the course or courses needed to develop the campaign.

What is a highlight from your campaign?

Brianne: ​The highlight of the campaign has been meeting so many wonderful people I might not have crossed paths with otherwise. Whether I’m canvassing, training, or attending a rally, I meet people every day who are excited about moving West Virginia forward. Each person I meet teaches me something that I didn’t know. I love hearing my district’s people’s stories of victories, strife, and family. It helps me so much. It gives me purpose.

Sandy: The highlight for me is meeting new people and making new friends. I love to meet people and hear their stories, so the personal contact on the campaign trail is my favorite experience.

Tom: Without a doubt it has been the convergence of my issues and the tremendous statewide teachers’ strike. The arrogance and parsimony of the Republican legislative leadership toward teachers drove home the fact that teachers need to research candidates and vote for the ones who work for the interests of teachers.

What’s a piece of advice for other candidates?

Brianne: It really is true when they tell you that the two most valuable things in your campaign are time and money. Carving up time effectively is important, but making sure to carve time out for yourself every once in awhile is not only ok, it’s necessary!

Sandy: Practice your speech! For me, formulating my message so that it’s clear, concise and consistent has been the most difficult part of starting my campaign. I know what I stand for and I know what I want my message to be; but when standing in front of an audience, it’s difficult to remember what I want to say, to sound authentic while I’m saying it–and to say it without stuttering. Practice has been key.

Tom: Never try to run your campaign by yourself and try to find a reputable, experienced person to be your campaign manager. A great organization frees up the candidate to focus on meeting voters and listening to their concerns.

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Rose Clouston

At the time this course was created, Rose was the Director of Online Trainings at NDTC. She is currently the Director of Voter Protection at the Texas Democratic Party, where she leads the state party's efforts to create an easy voting experience for all Texans and support voters throughout the process.

At NDTC, Rose led the team in creating dozens of on-demand, online trainings. Prior to joining NDTC, Rose was a National Coordinator at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where she managed the non-partisan Election Protection hotline, training and managing thousands of volunteers who answered tens of thousands of voters’ questions in the 2014 and 2016 elections. She organized state-level poll monitoring and election reform advocacy efforts in Pennsylvania, New York and Florida. Previously, Rose served as deputy director on a Virginia gubernatorial primary campaign and was a regional field director on a Florida gubernatorial campaign.

Rose has a Master in Public Policy from the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations from the University of Florida. She lives in Austin and in her free time enjoys exploring Austin's trails, biking, roller derby, and cooking new vegetarian recipes.