Image of Cynthia Pickett with the text "Bringing Psychology to the Local School Board" over a schoolroom background

Associate Psychology Professor Cynthia Pickett hopes to bridge the achievement gap at Davis Joint Unified School District and, in the process, empower its students to reach their full potential.

As an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, Cynthia Pickett already knows a thing or two about service.

Now she wants to take this service experience to the political world, as she runs to be a school board member in Davis Joint Unified School District. This election, set for November 2018, is Pickett’s first official foray into politics.

While working as a professor, Pickett noticed much of her work centered on finding undergraduate and graduate students different opportunities to reach their potential. As a school board member, Pickett knew she could help younger children as well.

“I’m interested in what I can do at these early stages to help kids reach their potential, (and) helping them realize they have skills and talents they might not have known,” says Pickett.

It was last year’s election, however, that really made Pickett want to get involved in politics, especially at the local level. “I had a sense of, ‘Oh, we’ll elect people and good things will happen,’” Pickett says. “But elections can go in the wrong direction.”

She describes the role of a school board member as someone who sets the direction and vision for the school district, making decisions small and large to ensure the district is giving children the values and skills they need when they graduate. These include being self-aware, empathizing with others, and the ability to think critically.

“Empathy, self-awareness; how do you incorporate that into the school system?” says Pickett. “What the school board does is work with parents, teachers and the community to help realize shared goals.”

One problem Pickett wants to address as a school board member is the achievement gap in her district. “What we find in our school district is racial minorities, low-income students and English language learners score significantly lower in terms of math and English language arts,” Pickett says.  “How do you reduce that gap for this group of students?”

Being a social psychologist, Pickett has a lot of theories, ideas and research at her fingertips that address the question of why there is a gap, and what can be done to bridge it. She also wants to make sure that schools have adequate counseling services available to students.

Pickett believes that one of the best attributes of a school board member is the willingness to collaborate with others and get input from everyone involved. As a member of SPSP, she has seen firsthand how effective this approach can be. “I want to continue (this collaboration) as a school board member,” says Pickett.

Going forward, Pickett feels energized. “There’s a lot of people to get to know,” she says. She has been reaching out to the community and learning about the different aspects of the school board positions, including going to a workshop to learn about budgets.

“Personally, I felt like if I care about the school my kids are going to and want to make sure they’re going in the right direction, I need to step up and run for office.”