“I Fight for My Students Because No One Fought for Me.”
“Dropping out of high school is what made me an excellent candidate for school board trustee. I had experienced first-hand how the district did not support students. I had fallen through the cracks and no one had noticed.”
I had a chaotic childhood. My family struggled with substance abuse and financial problems. I bounced back and forth between my mom and dad before I was rescued by my grandparents. I attended eight different schools in the Clark County, Las Vegas, school district and began working at the age of 14 to support my family. I often had to prioritize work over school.
At the advice of my school counselor, I dropped out of high school during my junior year. I had good grades but wouldn’t graduate on time because I had missed too many PE classes because of my after-school job. I became a teen mom. I always felt that I was destined to do big things, but I also struggled. By my early 20s, I suspected that I had ADHD but chose not to seek a formal diagnosis because I was worried about the stigma.
Over the years, I had started several businesses. Despite the fact that they were financially successful and I knew that I was smart, I was frustrated because I couldn’t seem to get the basic stuff right. I read all the self-help books, tried every system, hired coaches but nothing seemed to work.
At 30, I decided to get diagnosed. My initial reaction to my diagnosis was anger at my parents and every counselor, teacher and adult who had missed ADHD in my childhood.
Once on ADHD medication, however, I discovered that I could now organize my thoughts, tasks and emotions. I started learning about ADHD and discovered that my brain wasn’t broken; it was just different. Everything made sense. I started to focus on strategies to manage my ADHD. I discovered my strengths and came to the realization that if I could get as far as I had without these strategies, what could I do with them?
At this time, my kids were attending elementary school in the very same school district that had failed me. Little had changed. As a mom, I joined the PTO but grew increasingly frustrated at how hard it was to get anything done. That’s when I submitted my name for school board trustee for the 5th largest school district in the U.S. By then, I had an ADHD diagnosis and a solid understanding of how the school system fails children with ADHD brains.
My critics cited my dropping out of high school as the reason why I was not qualified to serve on the board when, in fact, dropping out of high school is what made me an excellent candidate. I had experienced first-hand how the district did not support students. I had fallen through the cracks and no one had noticed.
Ultimately, I ended up beating out 9 candidates and won the election. As a trustee, I control a $2.5 billion yearly budget and make policy decisions for a school district that serves 380 schools. In this role, I am responsible for more than 322,000 students.
My ADHD makes me an awesome trustee because I see things that others miss. I’m a human B.S. detector, I hyperfocus, and I have no filter. If I feel that something will negatively impact our students or staff, I will completely fixate on it and get to the bottom of what’s happening. I understand my students — and I fight for them.
As a teenager and young adult, my emotions were completely out of control. They fluctuated regularly and dramatically between boredom or overwhelm. I had a million thoughts and no way to process them. That’s when I learned that thinking something did not make it true and that my thoughts actually controlled my emotions, so why not choose the thoughts that serve me and dismiss the rest?
I tell my students that you must learn how your brain works. Look for the times when you’re exceptionally productive and enjoy what you’re doing. Take stock of those times and write them down. When you have 10 of them, ask yourself what they all have in common. Then set up your environment and life to do more of those things.
ADHD in Women: Next Steps
- Read: Women with ADHD: No More Suffering in Silence
- Learn: Why ADHD in Girls Is Often Overlooked
- Understand: Sister. Wife. Mother. Living with ADHD.
Danielle Ford is a school board trustee, TedX speaker, the host of “Leading Las Vegas,” and a marketing strategist specializing in automating systems and processes for entrepreneurs.
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Updated on March 1, 2021