Rachel McGowan doesn’t spend much time dwelling on her role as the first Black person to represent Lake Highlands on Richardson ISD’s school board. Elected in May, she is among the first three Black representatives in the board’s history: David Tyson served as an at-large trustee from 2004-2010, and Regina Harris was recently re-elected to represent District 4 surrounding Hamilton Park. But race is simply not the point, McGowan says.

“It’s time to get over that. This community is bigger and better than that. Being the first Black person to represent District 5 is great, but it’s not about that to our community,” she says. “My focus wasn’t demographics; it was higher education standards, disciplinary issues and accountability, closing the achievement gap, teacher retention and teacher salaries. Those are the priorities of our community.” 

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McGowan admitted she lacks expertise on certain issues during her campaign, and that candor endeared her to some voters.

I believe education is important, and you need to know what you’re talking about when you speak. When we don’t dig in and get the facts, bad things happen. I’m comfortable saying ‘I don’t know, but I will research that and get back to you.’ There will always be new laws and new things to learn.

McGowan always believed she’d win the three-person race without a runoff, and she did.

Most people said, “She’s one of our own. She’ll represent our district, and we’ll help her do it.” I was raised here, and I’m a product of these schools. I still have friends I grew up with, and we still love each other like we graduated yesterday. I am Lake Highlands. We are Lake Highlands. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.

Her bright red campaign signs, designed to stand out on green lawns, unexpectedly cost her a few votes — and won her a few — because some mistakenly believed the color signaled affiliation with the Republican Party.

I didn’t want to be put in a box because I’m Black; I just wanted to run the race. It’s not about partisan politics. I’m about educating kids and getting them to buy into higher standards for themselves and our school district. These kids are so technologically driven and so easily distracted, we’ve got to have teachers who can engage and connect quickly and grab their attention. If we aren’t putting politics and cultural differences to the side, we are losing our kids.

She’s optimistic and ambitious about the impact she can have in RISD.

I can make a difference by setting an example. I can be in the building, accessible and relatable. I want to be in the schools building relationships with teachers, administrators and students. That’s our job – connecting with the community to see what they think is important.

Parental rights have become a hot-button topic, with some parents pushing to control curriculum and books.

We have professionals in place for a reason. They go to school and study these topics. And some parents do, too, but I believe we have to leave a lot of this to the professionals to do their jobs and support them while they do it.

McGowan still uses lessons she learned on the Highlandette line.

We learned manners and respect. We said “yes ma’am” to our elders. We learned discipline and how to be a part of a team. (Highlandette director) Vicki Coleman always said, “One bad apple spoils the bunch,” and that resonated with me. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and you depend on each other when you’re linked up for a high kick on Friday night.