Taylor Sims, 23, poses for a portrait in her home in Pittsburg, CA on Sept. 10, 2021. Sims, who works a lot from home, was ready to pose before a bunch of Friday morning meetings she needed to take care of. (Amaya Edwards / Golden Gate Xpress) (Amaya Edwards)
Meet Pittsburg School Board newcomer and SF alum Taylor Sims
A look into how Sims got on the board of trustees, the challenges she has faced so far and where she sees herself in the future
Taylor Sims strives to be a voice for Pittsburg high school-aged youth in her community and has several policy goals she wants accomplished, including the removal of student resource officers from Pittsburg schools.
Sims is currently serving her first four-year term as a Pittsburg Unified School District Board of Trustee, having won her election in November 2020.
Sims, 23, is an SF State alum with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and is currently getting her master’s degree in education with a concentration in equity and social justice.
Sims comes from three generations of women who have lived in Pittsburg, an East Bay city in Contra Costa County, since 1997. She is the oldest of 10 kids including step-siblings. As the first of her siblings to achieve life milestones, her parents encouraged her to be the best example she can be, giving her both responsibility and anxiety.
Longtime board trustee Dr. Laura Canciamilla’s term ended in 2020 and she decided to retire, leaving the board entirely composed of older men.
This event catalyzed Sims’ campaign for a spot on the school board. She noticed both a lack of women on the board and younger voices.
“I felt like it was time for a change. It’s time for someone that’s younger and someone that also has that nurturing empathy, and having that on the board was of importance,” Sims said.
The school board was not the only place where Sims displayed her nurturing empathy. During her time at SF State, sociology professor Ryan Moore took note of her using that ability during his class sessions.
“I immediately noticed that she really has something special and has a gift in terms of her organizing ability and her ability to talk to people and listen with empathy,” said Moore. “Which is why she has this star quality, and if it can come through in a Zoom class — you know she has something special.”
“I felt like it was time for a change. It’s time for someone that’s younger and someone that also has that nurturing empathy,””
— Taylor Sims
Sims wants to accomplish ambitious goals, including enacting ethic studies programs, ensuring mental health services are easy to access for students, and reducing the amount of disciplinary action students of color face so that they stay in the classroom and learn.
The one issue she has struggled the most on achieving is getting other board members to support her effort to end the student resource officer contract with the Pittsburg Police Department.
According to the Pittsburg Unified School District Safe Schools page, SROs are officers who are assigned to schools of all levels in the district. Duane Smith, PUSD Board of Trustees President, mentioned that the majority of parents support the SROs through Local Control Accountability Plan surveys.
According to Smith, it costs $671,814 annually for all four SROs that serve the district, with the district paying $463,532 and the City of Pittsburg pays $208,282.
Sims does not support SROs because she does not want to see young students penalized and criminalized. Removing the SROs in her view has been an uphill battle.
“It’s been really really hard to get that out of our system because I would be the only lone vote by myself, but I truly believe that instead of criminalizing the students, they should give them mental health resources to really get to the root of the issue of what’s going on,” Sims said.
Smith has been on the board since 2013 when he ran unopposed and won, similarly to PUSD Board Vice President De’Shawn Woolridge. Smith disagrees with Sims regarding the debate over SROs because he noted that SROs are not involved in any disciplinary action, and are only there to deal with drugs, assaults, firearms, etc.
While the board voted 5-4 to reduce the total SROs in the schools, the majority of the board has been against outright ending the SRO contract. Though he disagrees with her, Smith welcomes Sims’ viewpoint on the board.
“We definitely welcome Ms. Sims and her voice as we can look for things that she may bring up that we may not be aware of, areas where we can communicate with our youth a lot better,” said Smith. “So those are some of the things that make things better and exciting because we have that youthful voice there. I’m looking forward to what she brings to the board.”
Vice President Woolridge is proud of Sims and the work she has done so far, but also stressed the importance of Sims taking her role one day at a time.
“Your first year, you’re not coming in guns blazing and ‘I want to throw all this stuff out there’. Your first year you’re trying to learn what’s happening,” said Woolridge. “We are a team of five, you need three to move anything action forward. … the majority of Taylor’s first year, it’s rightfully so — listening, learning, coming into herself as a trustee and also building those relationships to get what she is passionate about across to the other board members.”
Sims is not alone in her fight for her causes and has worked with groups including the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the Pittsburg Youth Alliance to campaign for her spot on the board and changes she hopes to bring to the board.
Pittsburg resident Maria Tapia is a member of ACCE, a state-wide grassroots organization that fights for causes that are needed to better many communities.
Tapia, like Sims, doesn’t want the SROs in schools because of how expensive the contracts are which she believes could be better spent paying for mental health services.
Sims is the only member of the school board collaborating with ACCE, but Tapia is hopeful others on the board will also reach out to the organization.
“We understand she is a good worker, a hard worker, but she is the only one who is voicing our concerns,” said Tapia. “We’re hoping that within the school year and the elections, we can find somebody that will not only support her, but help her with our issues in the school board so we can have more support at the school level.”
Sims doesn’t see herself as a politician. Her long-term career goal is to become a teacher or administrator in a city like Pittsburg, since it is a conflict of interest to be both a board member and a teacher.
“I don’t plan on doing anything else besides working in the school district or being on the board. I’m very passionate about children, I’m not passionate about being a politician, that’s not me,” said Sims. “I’m very much a free spirit, I’m an open mind, and so being a politician isn’t really me and having to shake hands and kiss babies and all that good stuff — that’s not really me.”