Aimy Steele left her job last year as principal of Beverly Hills STEM Elementary School in Concord, N.C., to run for a statehouse seat.
She lost by fewer than 2,000 votes to Republican incumbent Linda Johnson.
But Steele, a Democrat, isn’t returning to the school house. Instead, buoyed by her experience as a candidate and what she learned along the way, Steele said she is relaunching her campaign to run for the same seat in 2020.
And she is using two of the biggest lessons from the campaign to guide her this time around: start fundraising early and have a better ground game, with early organization and door-knocking in neighborhoods and precincts.
“I have to keep going and [ensure] that our voices are heard and that the policies that I wanted to change are being addressed,” Steele said this week.
“We think we have a good chance running again.”
Steele was among the dozens of educators who ran for state and federal offices in the November 2018 midterm elections.
While there were high-profile victories—for example, the 2016 Nation Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes became the first African-American woman from Connecticut to be elected to Congress—only 43 of the 122 teachers who made it to the general election won their races, according to an Education Week tracker.
With the 2018 lessons, Steele is starting on her next bid more than a year early.
She plans to hire a finance director next month and start fundraising in March. (She kept her committee from the last election open, which will allow her to continue to raise money.) She’ll also begin to rally the volunteers who helped her last year.
Steele said her campaign priorities are likely to be the same—education, affordable healthcare, transportation, and the opioid epidemic. But she will spend more time developing and communicating detailed policy proposals on how to make the changes she wants to see, Steele said.
She also plans to start meeting potential constituents in their kitchens and dining rooms about issues that are important to them and recruit some to become “lead neighborhood captains.” Some of those interactions will be documented on a YouTube channel.
And because she is no longer in the classroom, Steele, who plans to stay involved in the public education debate and issues involving schools, said she feels less constrained to speak her mind about education and other policies.
“I’ve definitely become freer to express my opinion politically,” she said.
With educator activism expected to continue in 2019, Steele says she sees the old norm of teachers taking their concerns to principals, who then took it to their boss, who took it to his or her boss until it got to the elected officials, as a thing of the past.
“I see people taking advocacy as their responsibility now, and not looking for someone else to save them,” Steele said.
“With so many across the nation rising up and saying ‘enough is enough; I will stand up’... it’s encouraging others to activate their voices as well. It’s refreshing.”
Photo: Former school principal Aimy Steele, center, chats with Jeanette Logan while campaigning for the new North Carolina house district 82 seat during a National Night Out event in Kannapolis, N.C., on Aug. 7, 2018. --Jason E. Miczek for Education Week
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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.