Who knew the State Board of Education could be such a hotbed for high-profile movers and shakers? A place to see and be seen? A place for well-known names like Elaine Wynn and promising up-and-comers such as Allison Serafin?
But as Nevada tries to diversify its post-recession economy, anxiety about public education here is running high. In November, Serafin, 36, was elected to the board that had been reconfigured by the 2011 Legislature at the urging of Governor Brian Sandoval. The changes are set to take place this year: The new board has only four elected positions instead of 10, and seven appointees—one of whom is Wynn. Suddenly, the once-sleepy precinct of education policy is a well-lit stage.
Cue Serafin, whose networking skills and made-for-TV image caused political pundits to wonder if this office is just a step toward bigger things.
“No,” she says. “I really want to help set a vision for education.”
That vision grew from a background with Teach for America (TFA), a nonprofit organization that places high-achieving college graduates into low-income classrooms with the intent of raising the quality of education. Serafin, the daughter of a Houston attorney and a real estate agent, received her bachelor’s degree in political science at Texas Christian University and her master’s in social work at the University of Texas, Arlington, before joining the teaching corps.
When she was preparing for her first teaching position, a professor said something to her that stuck: “Promise me you won’t love your babies into a welfare line,” Serafin recalls. “He said, ‘Hold your students to the highest bar.’”
Serafin quickly translated that ethos into a business model for teachers and policymakers, and decided that her skill set—networking, fundraising, negotiating—was best applied to the education system as a whole. After serving in three teaching positions, she moved to Las Vegas in 2008 as TFA’s local executive director. In that post, she tripled revenue and created video and social-media marketing campaigns to recruit teachers and donors.
In 2012, she became special consultant to Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones, a role in which she oversaw a $2 million budget and secured $2.8 million in gifts to support district initiatives. Serafin’s campaign for the Board of Education brought the game up a notch: She secured more than $150,000 for the campaign—including a donation from Wynn.
Serafin’s goal is to bring more people to the education table to improve student opportunity. Her model is a business model, and she’s searching for efficiencies in the relationship between schools and families, including “getting rid of the silos” in which social services work independently of schools. She wants the “business of education”—from teachers to administrators to the new State Board—to be held accountable for giving Nevada students a clear trajectory toward college.
“We need heat on this house,” she says. “This is the only business where you blame the customer if the service doesn’t work. It’s time to change that.”