CalSouthern Graduate Sherie Mahlberg Wins School Board Seat, Looks Forward to Challenging the Status Quo
Like many parents, Sherie Mahlberg wasn’t satisfied with the status quo that existed within her children’s school district. The Vacaville, California resident and CalSouthern alumnus—Mahlberg graduated in 2010 with a Master of Arts in Psychology—had strong opinions regarding a number of critical issues facing the district, and a belief that the children needed a leader to advocate on their behalf.
Mahlberg decided to do what few others have the commitment, energy, and will to do: she threw her hat into the ring and ran for a seat on the Vacaville Unified School District School Board. And not only did she win a place on the board, she was the leading vote getter of the seven candidates on the ballot.
CalSouthern caught up with the marriage and family therapist intern to learn more about her inspiration for running, her thoughts on the campaign and election experience, as well as her goals for the school district and her future plans.
CalSouthern: First of all, congratulations on your victory! Can you describe the feeling you had upon winning the election? Do you have a feel for why the community responded so positively to your message and candidacy?
Sherie Mahlberg: The entire process has been surreal. I never dreamed I would become the top vote getter out of the seven candidates who ran. I think it’s a direct reflection of the relationships I have made over the last 15 years within the community. The people of Vacaville know my heart and were confident that I was running for the best interests of our kids.
CalSouthern: What was your motivation in running for school board? What do you hope to accomplish?
Mahlberg: I ran for the school board because I wanted to make a difference. I am frustrated with the status quo. Our children are not being advocated for and I came to a place where I realized I could either sit back and complain or actually step up to effect change. My vested interest is that I have three children who attend Vacaville public schools: one in high school, one in middle school, and one in elementary.
CalSouthern: Lots of people have strong opinions on public issues, or ideas for how they might institute change if they were elected to public office. Very few actually throw their hat into the ring and commit to taking on the responsibility. What pushed you to ultimately make the decision to run?
Mahlberg: One of the big motivations to run came toward the end of last school year. For the last six years, I have provided counseling for at-risk youth at the district’s community day school. My caseload was comprised of violent juvenile offenders, most of who were on probation and active gang members. The school was costly, and finding staff willing to work with the so-called “worst of the worst” often proved difficult. But we were able to make progress with these kids. However, the district made the choice to close the school and place our most at-risk youth in a three-hour per day program—this just was not acceptable to me. This, coupled with my frustration at the district’s ongoing lack of transparency and accountability within the community, compelled me to run.
CalSouthern: What was the campaigning/election process like? What was most challenging aspect? Conversely, were there elements of it that came naturally?
Mahlberg: The process was intense, to say the least. It was a full-time job, and then some. But I loved every minute of it! The most challenging aspect was asking people for campaign contributions. It was extremely gratifying that we were able to raise the most money out of all candidates. Building relationships with other elected officials, the people of the community, and other candidates was the part that came the easiest. It was also where I found the most joy.
CalSouthern: Can you tell us about your current practice?
Mahlberg: Currently, I am working for the police department providing anger management and social skills training. I also conduct grief and loss groups in the elementary schools for fourth- and sixth-grade students.
CalSouthern: Given the fact that you are just now undertaking an enormous new challenge, it’s an odd time to ask this, but beyond serving on the school board, what are your future professional goals?
Mahlberg: My most immediate goals are to finish my remaining hours for MFT licensure and successfully pass the state exam. After that, I will see where my counseling and political careers take me.
CalSouthern: Can you tell us a bit about your experience at CalSouthern?
Mahlberg: CalSouthern provided me with the opportunity to complete my schooling when traditional methods simply would not have been an option. During my time at CalSouthern, I was involved in a vehicle accident. I ended up requiring surgery and spent six months in a hospital bed. No other school program would have worked with and accommodated me the way CalSouthern did. For that I, will always be grateful. What I learned during my time at CalSouthern has truly changed me as a person. It is my hope to now pass on what I have learned to those around me.