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College Park HS alumna newly elected to Congress opens office in Washington DC, where fellow alum and friend helps lead education data organization
Posted 1/10/23

Although the two College Park HS alumni have followed different career paths, they are both working to help underserved populations through legislation and advocacy

Photos of Andrea and Paige

By Theresa Harrington Brandt, MDUSD Public Information Officer


After graduating from College Park HS together more than 35 years ago, two former classmates from the Class of 1987 who have remained lifelong friends are both in Washington DC, where they are each making an impact on national policies in different ways.


Andrea Salinas, who got her start in high school government at College Park, was elected to U.S. Congress in November to represent a newly formed district in Oregon, where she lives with her husband and daughter, a high school senior. Her longtime friend Paige (Kemmitt) Kowalski, who met Andrea at Valley View MS, which they attended together before CPHS, is Executive Vice President of the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit education data advocacy organization in Washington DC.


The two women have remained close over the years – participating in each other’s weddings and baby showers – and keeping in touch from afar. They were reunited once again earlier this month, when Andrea flew to Washington DC to settle into her new apartment in anticipation of being sworn in as a Congresswoman.


Both share the goal of helping underserved people achieve their dreams by ensuring they have equitable opportunities in education and the workforce. 


Andrea is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant father, Roberto Salinas (below), who started working in fields picking cotton and tomatoes as a child before later becoming a San Francisco Police Officer and raising Andrea in Pleasant Hill.

Photo of Roberto Salinas

As a Latina who was the first to graduate from college on both sides of her family, Andrea believes that true change can be accomplished in a generation through hard work and a commitment to breaking down barriers for those with limited access to higher education. 
Paige, a first-generation college graduate, said most students at College Park in the 1980s came from blue collar families whose parents didn’t graduate from college and who didn’t understand how to navigate the college system. Her later realization that she and her family didn’t have access to the same information as students whose parents were college-educated helped shape her passion for leveling the playing field by sharing education data widely, with everyone from students, to parents, to principals to policy-makers. This includes data about the advantages of taking rigorous high school courses, and how low-income students can pursue higher education at four-year universities with the help of financial aid and targeted programs.


A Democrat, Andrea has already been named to the Hispanic Caucus’ leadership team as its Freshman Representative. When votes were still being counted throughout the country two months ago, some – including Paige – thought Andrea’s victory might help Democrats narrowly keep their lead over Republicans in the House. Paige tagged MDUSD’s Public Information Office in a November tweet, saying: “Did you know that one of the outstanding Congressional races is OR-06 (Oregon, District 6) and a College Park HS grad (’87) is in the lead and predicted by NYT to win? House control may come down to a born and raised PHill girl!”


Although Democrats did not end up keeping their majority in the House, that has not diminished Andrea’s resolve to get things done for the people she serves, a desire she traces back to her high school student government experience. From her sophomore through senior years, Andrea held various offices including junior class treasurer and student body vice president. She took pride in helping to fundraise for activities that brought her class together, such as the senior picnic, travel, proms, and homecoming. She also loved participating in the College Park HS Mock Congress, playing flute in the band and cheerleading.

Photos of Andrea and Paige

“My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, so I juggled multiple jobs – from painting homes to pouring coffee – while attending UC Berkeley,” she said in an online biography. It took me seven years, but I earned that degree and it opened doors for me that I hadn't thought possible before. When my daughter (Amelia) was born 17 years ago, I felt in my core the same determination that drove my own parents: that there was nothing that would keep me from doing everything in my power to shape a stronger, more equitable future for Amelia and her generation.”


As the mother of a daughter who identifies as LGBTQ, Andrea said she is working to improve social and emotional supports in schools for LGTBQ students. She is also focused on family issues, such access to childcare and broadband Internet, as well as immigration and labor issues.


Paige is excited to see her high school friend fearlessly taking on her new role as a U.S. Congresswoman, without high-level connections.


“She’s not from a big, powerful family,” Paige said. “She didn’t make millions of dollars. She was just a girl in high school who found a way to juggle things like band and being a cheerleader. Those are very different social circles. She has shown perseverance with the kinds of jobs she took on to support herself.” As a first-generation college graduate and a first-generation American, Paige said Andrea is “authentic.”


Like Andrea, Paige is passionate about her work informing policy-makers and the public about the importance of collecting and sharing robust education data so students, parents, school districts and elected officials can make decisions based on what works. She and her organization have been pushing California to collect and report data about where students go after they graduate from high school, which the state is now in the process of doing. “You can’t move the ball forward unless you understand where you are and where you want to go and measure it as you go,” Paige said. “I like to empower people with the tools they need to demand what they deserve.”


Similarly, Andrea said it is important for students to understand what opportunities exist and how to go after them. “A lot of it is essentially being at the table and making sure all voices are heard. It’s having access to all the rules and knowing how to use those rules to your advantage.”


Both women said there are many career paths available for students interested in the political process – from working as interns, staff members or advocates for groups or issues – to running for local, state or national elected offices. Andrea has experience both behind the scenes and as an elected representative, while Paige has opted to work as an advocate who influences public policy.


Andrea earned a BA in psychology from UC Berkeley, which she said has helped her in politics “because it is so much about relationships and people.” Her interest in politics intensified as a college senior, when she was an intern in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office working to serve constituents. “It was fascinating and exciting to know that you could affect and help people’s lives,” Andrea said. “I got the ‘bug’ for politics at that time.”


Paige received her bachelor’s degree in international relations from UC Davis and a master’s degree in public policy from The George Washington University, focusing on education policy. She worked as an analyst for the UC system, the city of San Francisco and Chicago Public Schools, before moving to Washington DC in 2004 to work with education organizations. She joined the Data Quality Campaign in 2008 and encourages students interested in data to pursue the emerging field of data science, focusing on statistics and quantitative analysis. “The data science field is so short-staffed,” she said. “That is the future.” A.I. harnesses data science, but also requires an understanding of the ethics involved so that it is not abused, she said. “There’s so much demand for those skills and that knowledge,” she added.


Although Paige likes to “push, argue and fight” for what she believes, she says she “would never trade advocacy” for elected office. “I don’t envy her,” she says of Andrea. Yet, Paige could not be happier for her high school pal.


“Andrea has always been a fighter,” Paige said, remembering their days together at College Park HS. “She’s a very strong, determined, smart person. She’s the same now as she was then. I’m just so proud of her that she has made this happen.”


You can see Andrea talking about her new role as a Freshman again - this time in Congress - here.