Usira Ali, left, and Austin Sims are vying for an at-large seat on Portland’s school board.

Last of four stories. 

Voters will only decide the winner of one of three Portland school board seats on the Nov. 7 city ballot; the other two are uncontested.

Two candidates are vying for an at-large seat while the District 3 and 4 seats have only one registered candidate each.

Usira Ali, 23, and Austin Sims, 37, are competing for the at-large seat currently held by Yusuf Yusuf, who has been on the board since 2021 and is not running for another term.

As an at large member of the board, the winner will serve a three-year term and represent the entire city. The board determines educational policy, creates a budget and allocates resources within the school district. The Portland School District is the largest in the state and includes 17 schools.

Incumbent Sarah Brydon, 44, is the sole candidate running for the District 5 seat. Fatuma A. Noor is the only one running for the District 4 seat, currently held by Aura Russell-Bedder.


Ali is a part-time medical assistant at Greater Portland Health and is studying for her medical school entrance exam. Originally from Somalia, she immigrated to Maine in 2012. She graduated from Portland schools and now hopes to help the district prepare all students for success in the life they want after high school.

She graduated from Bowdoin College in 2022. At Bowdoin, she said, she saw a lot of inequality, had to work double-time to catch up to many other students, and felt significant imposter syndrome.

She wants to help the district support all students and believes that as a very recent high schooler herself, she could provide a unique viewpoint to the board and connect well with current students.

“I could bring student voices to the school board,” she said.

Sims is a soon to be stay-at-home dad with a past career in tech and his experience in local politics – he was once the chair of the Portland rent board, helped pass Portland’s hazard pay law, and has worked to support Pine Tree Power.

With twins on the way, Sims hopes to use his previous grassroots organizing experience to mobilize people to keep Portland schools successful in the years to come.



Ali’s brother pitched her the idea of running for school board. At first, she wasn’t sure she wanted to run, but the more she thought about it the more she realized the value she could provide, she said. Ali believes her understanding of what it means to be a Portland student and her experience connecting with immigrant communities and using culturally appropriate education to teach people about health equity would make her a valuable addition to the board.

“I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if board members and leadership knew how students feel and what they need on a micro level?’ On a macro level, they know students need more support and resources, but I could provide a more specific view of what’s going on,” she said. “I just experienced it.”

She wants to work with the school board’s student representatives to connect with current students, create more mentorship opportunities for students, and work to bridge an immigrant and non-immigrant social divide that she says is prevalent in the schools.

She also hopes to engage parents and other community members, especially non-English speakers, in what’s happening in the school district. She hopes to find a way to have school board meetings translated into multiple languages in real time and increase parent-teacher conference accessibility for immigrant parents.

Although having children on the way piqued Sims’ interest in running for school board, he said he has long been interested in public education.


Public education engages people and helps them understand the world, creates a better society and gives people agency,” he said. 

He wants to bolster public education in Portland by increasing resources available to the district. He hopes to find funding sources outside of taxpayer dollars through raising money, applying for grants and working with the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, the school district’s nonprofit arm.

Funding will be especially important when the district reaches the end of it’s COVID-19 money, he said.

Come the end of September 2024, K-12 school districts across the United States must allocate all of the federal COVID relief money they received since the start of the pandemic. As school districts lose that money, which they have been using to fund learning recovery programs including tutoring and additional staff, they will be forced to find alternative sources of funding or slash programs and positions.

Sims hopes to find resources that can soften that blow and help the district continue its work on The Portland Promise, the district’s equity centered strategic plan.

He is particularly suited to do this work, he said, because of his experience organizing and in city politics.


He knows how to mobilize people to achieve change, he said.

Sims grew up poor and as a child in Texas he basically lived in the library, he said. Sometimes, it’s still hard for him to wrap his head around the fact that he attended graduate school and now owns a home.

“I never expected this much,” he said.

He credits much of his success to public education. He attended public schools for K-12 and higher education.

“We can’t afford to lose public education,” he said.



Brydon has served on the board for a little over a year. She said she has more work to do to support the students of Portland. Brydon won the District 5 seat in a special election last year, taking over for Jeff Irish, who resigned from the school board in October 2021.

The past year on the board has come with a steep learning curve, but that is starting to plateau, said Brydon.

“I’m running because a year and change is not enough time to do good work for the students of Portland so I’m gonna go for another three years,” said Brydon, who has twin third-graders at Talbot elementary school.

In her time on the board, Brydon said she has learned that there are always going to be people who disagree with her and are unhappy with decisions. She’s worked to speak with people who don’t agree with her, ask questions and encourage engagement.

She said she looks forward to continuing those approaches in the next few years.

Noor is a political newcomer running for the school board’s District 4 seat. She did not respond to the Press Herald’s multiple requests to discuss her campaign and goals for the school board. Russell-Bedder, who has served on the board since 2021, is not seeking reelection.



Usira Ali

Age: 23

Occupation: Medical assistant

Hometown: Somalia; Portland

Education: BA in biochemistry and minor in gender, sexuality and women studies from Bowdoin College


Political Experience: None

Website: Usira Ali For School Board At Large


Austin Sims

Age: 37

Occupation: Unemployed; soon-to-be stay at home dad; formerly worked in tech


Hometown: Texas

Education: BA in English and history from Sam Houston State University; master’s in literature from Texas State University

Political Experience: Political organizer; former chair of Portland Rent Board

Website: Sims for School Board

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