The Last Word November 2012

By C. Ed Massey

In the world of public education, we are pressured to hear from the “experts.” Talking heads and vendors compete to tell us what is best for the children we are educating. We talk about testing, response to intervention, rewards and penalties, and college readiness. We measure our success or failure by a score on a test, adequate yearly progress guidelines, remediation rates, etc. Despite all of these measuring sticks, do we ever ask those we serve how we are doing?

More than 10 years ago, my district, the Boone County School District in Kentucky, embarked on a campaign to have a student school board member. Our belief was that the input of the students was an important component of our success or failure. We established a process whereby students elect their own representative to our school board. While the position is nonvoting, it is still important. Each meeting, we have a designated time to hear from our student board member. That engagement has been fantastic. In fact, one idea initiated by students earned the Boone County School District a Magna Award in 2012 from ASBJ.

Our theme in Boone County is, “Achieving Excellence Together.” “Together” includes our students. Sometimes we as board members become so focused on business that we forget our real business, which is ensuring that all children within our district get a free and appropriate public education. After all, our students will be impacted most by our successes or failures.

In our district here is what some are saying about our student representative:

Superintendent Randy Poe: “In Boone County, education is more than preparing children for career and college readiness -- it is also about preparing them for life. As educators, we need to connect with students to motivate and guide them. Without involving our students into the process, we will fail to achieve this objective. Parents and students in multiple Gallup polls over the years have identified that a teacher with a caring disposition is the teacher who has made a difference in their life. What better way to demonstrate a caring disposition than to involve students in the decision-making process.”

Former Boone County student board member Janelle Wichmann: “Before my tenure on the board began, I doubted how seriously the accomplished set of board members would take my presence, opinions, and perspective. I quickly learned the value they saw in me and my work with the larger student body of our county. It was a refreshing reaffirmation that my opinion, as an 18-year-old, mattered. I never forgot this life lesson that my voice and thoughts have substance and I have carried it with me throughout my endeavors -- which include working on the official Presidential Search Committee for the University of Cincinnati’s president, as well as internships at Google and Procter & Gamble.”

As you can see, the impact of having a student member on our board has brought many rewards. It also has allowed us to engage our community around the concept that our district is about the students we serve.

We have had a student board member for several years running. We are in the process of electing our student school board member for this school year. I have no doubt that this process will be fulfilling for the board members as well as for the student who will serve. After being sworn in by a local judge, her or she will be ready to engage fully as a student representative on our board. By working with the students we serve, we get buy-in from the student body. We also get engagement from the parents. With full community engagement, the opportunities of the students in our district are unlimited.

As you continue through this new school year, think about those you serve and find a way to get them involved. Including a student representative on your board is an effective way to engage your students. You won’t regret it.

C. Ed Massey (cemassey@nkylawyers.com) is the 2012-13 president of NSBA and a member of Kentucky’s Boone County Board of Education.