Sascha Anderson is a mother of three, a communications consultant for two high-profile political figures in Santa Fe and a local volunteer.
Recently, she also became the newest member of the Santa Fe school board.
Anderson, 38, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma who is running unopposed in the Nov. 2 election for the District 5 board seat previously held by Lorraine Price, was appointed to the position in early September following Price’s death.
Her district includes several midtown schools — Santa Fe High School; Milagro Middle School; the Early College Opportunities school; and Kearny, Nava, Piñon and Salazar elementary schools.
She said she plans to advocate for better teacher pay and will push for more discussions on equity at Santa Fe Public Schools, including “equitable distribution of resources” for the Adelante Program, which serves homeless students and families; the nonprofit Communities In Schools, which offers an array of programs for the district’s lowest-income kids; and other initiatives.
As a Native American, she said, she brings a fresh perspective to the district.
“I’m an Indigenous woman. I think that’s really important,” she said, adding she wishes “there was representation from a New Mexico nation or pueblo on the school board.”
The only other spot up on the board that’s up for election this year is the District 3 seat held by board President Kate Noble, who is running unopposed.
Noble, in a recent interview, said she was relieved the board was able to fill Price’s seat so quickly. “It was nice and clean and clear whom we needed to appoint, after seeing that Sascha is running for the position unopposed.”
While Anderson’s name is fairly new in local politics, she has become known in recent months as a lead spokeswoman for Mayor Alan Webber’s reelection campaign and the office of First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies.
She has contracts with both through her private communications consulting firm.
“Sascha Anderson is imminently qualified,” Carmack-Altwies said in an interview Friday. “While she works in communications right now, she has quite the background in equity and social justice. She is very passionate about certain topics the school board regularly deals with.”
Webber also lauded Anderson’s work in the community.
“I think she’s very plugged into the community,” he said. “She’s actively involved with families, moms, kids. I think she’ll bring a lot of experience and constructive ideas to the school board. So, I think they made a good selection.”
The mayor noted he has no say in school board appointments.
Anderson acknowledged her political and communications work — including for local nonprofits — could create conflicts of interest when it comes to her position on the school board.
She recently consulted with the school board’s attorney on how to draw boundaries, she said.
“I am highly cognizant of any overlap and will always recuse myself of any issue that overlaps between my clients or my volunteer work or my school board work,” Anderson said.
She added she’s “really careful to sort of silo that work. That said, I do think that there is potential for collaboration on the school board with various other government entities and community entities.”
Noble agreed. “I would ask anybody to tell me why there’s a conflict of interest and not an alignment of interest,” she said. “Closer alignment to the city is something I’ve worked on a bunch.”
Carmack-Altwies said she and Anderson already have discussed a plan to avoid potential conflicts.
“We came up with a strategy that if any conflict came up, that she would recuse herself of the vote or discussion on the school board, and obviously I would then take her out of any discussions if there ever was a discussion with the school board,” the district attorney said.
“But as I was having that discussion with her, neither of us could come up with any examples in the last three, four, five years of dealings that the District Attorney’s Office has had with the school board,” she added.
Webber said the short duration of Anderson’s work with his campaign — she’s contracted through Nov. 2 — likely will prevent any overlaps.
“I think we’re 30 days out for the election,” he said. “And so I think the issue is very short-lived.” If anything concerning arose, he said, they would discuss the issue to ensure “there would not be a conflict or even an appearance of a conflict.”
Anderson grew up in Norman, Okla., and comes from a family of educators.
The public school system brought solace for her amid the realities of a childhood deeply affected by poverty and substance abuse.
“Having that experience and having the public schools … saved my life,” she said.
She took college courses for seven years, she said, but did not earn a degree.
At 26, Anderson moved to New York City and worked in the specialty foods industry, and in 2015, she moved to Santa Fe with her husband, Michael, and their kids — in part, she said, to get away from the “hypercompetitive” school system of the nation’s largest city.
Anderson said she was drawn to run for a school board seat after watching board members debate key issues over the past few years, such as the dress code and Fiesta de Santa Fe celebrations in schools.
“I will say, I also saw places where I thought the school board could improve,” she said. “There were opportunities for growth in the areas around conversations around closing schools [and] the transfer policy.”
Tiny Nava Elementary School in District 5 was identified in past years as one of a few midtown schools that could be closed and consolidated due to small and stagnant or declining enrollment numbers. In 2019, Price and former board member Maureen Cashmon voted in favor of closing Nava and two other low-enrollment schools with high rates of transfer students. Their effort did not pass.
Anderson’s eldest daughter, 8-year-old Winifred, has attended Nava’s home-school program since before the family lived in the district.
Still, Anderson said she doesn’t lean one way or the other on the topic of school closures. Instead, she called for better stakeholder engagement and more “robust” conversations surrounding equity.
“I say this as someone who utilizes the transfer policy,” she said. “So it’s not that I think … people shouldn’t be able to transfer schools.”
She noted, however, some schools in the district have high rates of students who transfer from other zones, while many have high numbers kids of transferring out.
Before moving to the District 5 area, Anderson headed Gonzales Community School’s Parent Teacher Association. She also worked on a diversity and equity committee through the state Public Education Department, though she’ll step down from that position.
She’s still part of an equity committee under Santa Fe Public Schools’ new superintendent, Hilario “Larry” Chavez. It remains unclear whether she’ll be able to continue serving on the panel.
She also is a current board member for the local nonprofit Girls Inc.
Anderson said families can expect her to be a “cheerleader” for the schools of District 5 and an advocate of ensuring more equal distribution of resources between schools.
“And then the well-being of students, and families, and teachers and staff is of my utmost concern,” she said. “And that’s food security, housing security, culturally responsive resources and mental health.”