Salem psychiatrist seeks seat on school board with platform focused on student mental health

Satya Chandragiri is running for Salem-Keizer School Board in zone 4. (Courtesy/Satya Chandragiri)

As a child in India, Satya Chandragiri had a teacher who changed his life.

Now, after decades working as a psychiatrist in Oregon, Chandragiri is running for Salem-Keizer School Board with a focus on student mental health and preventing teacher burnout.

Chandragiri moved around India frequently because his father served in the air force. At 12, he attended school in Bangalore, a city in southern India, where English was the language of instruction. Chandragiri didn’t speak a word.

“I didn’t even know how to ask where the bathroom is,” he said.

He wanted to stop going to school, but his teacher worked with him until he felt comfortable in class, he said.

“If that teacher had not stepped in as a responsive, engaging adult, I would not be here running for this board,” he said.

Chandragiri moved to Salem in 2005 from Pendleton, where he had served as the chief medical officer for the Eastern Oregon Psychiatric Center, the now-shuttered state psychiatric hospital.

In Salem, he’s worked for Salem Health, the VA and in private practice as a psychiatrist, and had two children graduate from Salem-Keizer schools.

The board run isn’t his first foray into politics. Last year, Chandragiri ran as a Republican for state representative in district 19, but lost in the primary to incumbent Denyc Boles.

He said he decided to run for the board after seeing a series of suicides by young people in Salem, including two at Sprague High School last fall.

“I can’t just stand by and watch this go on,” he said.

He’s running in zone 4, the portion of south Salem including Sprague High School. Director Jim Green, who has served two terms on the board, has said he won’t seek re-election.

The election is May 21, and the filing deadline for candidates is March 21.

Chandragiri said students need a clear, individualized pathway through school that takes them toward a goal, whether that’s higher education or a career, and high expectations from adults at school.

He wants schools to take a trauma-informed approach to education, understanding that difficulties in students’ lives are likely to manifest as outbursts or difficult behaviors.

“Positive mental health is absolutely essential for learning,” he said.

As a board member, he said he look for ways to make district policies and processes more efficient so teachers can spend less time on paperwork.

“Teachers are getting burned out and demoralized,” he said.

No other candidates have filed to run against Chandragiri, but David Salinas, an electrician with Cherry City Electric who has served on volunteer committees for the district, has indicated he intends to run for the seat.

In zone 6, Keizer Chamber Director Danielle Bethell is challenging incumbent Chuck Lee, president of the Mountain West Career Technical Institute.

In zone 2, incumbent Marty Heyen said she’ll seek a second term on the board but has not yet filed. No one has yet filed to challenge her.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.