Kentucky School Advocate
By Jennifer Wohlleb
For the leaders of Boone County Schools, it seemed like the best way to make decisions about what is best for students was to include them in the decision making.
This is the 13th year the Boone County Board of Education has included a student representative – elected by students – on its board.
PHOTO: Boone County Board of Education Student Representative Sam Gormley, explains his role, as board chairwoman, Karen Byrd, looks on.
"It's amazing, if you give the students that avenue, what they can do with it," said board Chairwoman Karen Byrd, who led a clinic session on the topic during KSBA's annual conference last month.
The idea of including a student representative on the board begin when the superintendent at the time started the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council, which has representatives from each of the district's 24 schools.
"You hear from your parents, you hear from your community, you hear from your business leaders, but how often do you really actively court what your students think about the school system that you are giving them each and every day?" Byrd asked. "You may do senior exit interviews – we do those in our district. Every senior has an interview, but that's kind of too late to fix something for those students. Why not have a sounding board for what's going on now so you can react more appropriately, more quickly? So we started our Student Advisory Council, and at the time I think they met once a quarter, which I think has evolved to more regularly than that; I think they meet monthly now."
After attending a national conference where they heard a presentation of a district that had a student school board representative, board members began to see that as the next evolution of the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council.
"And what we as board members didn’t know at the time was that our student advisory board that was meeting with the superintendent was telling him the same thing: Why don't we have a seat at your board? Why do we just meet here? Why are we limited to this?" Byrd said. "The groundwork was already laid, so we figured, why not do a student-elected board member?"
This year's representative, Sam Gormley, a senior at Conner High School, said his main role is to help the superintendent and the board have more direct knowledge of what is going on in the schools.
"I have been charged by my peers to represent their issues, concerns, suggestions and activities with the members of the board of education," he said. "I am the voice of over 20,400 Boone County students. Although I do not vote or sit in on executive sessions, I am recognized and listened to by my fellow members, like Ms. Byrd. The board has taken many issues brought, not only by myself, but also from the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, under consideration and have asked the superintendent to give us more information."
The advisory council meets once a month, and in addition to bringing issues before the superintendent, students also receive their own professional development for leadership skills during those meetings.
"The main goal of the council is to develop 21st century leadership skills as a group, and effectively implement those skills in our individual schools," Gormley said. "We are encouraged to use our leadership skills by participating in school-based decision making, speaking out when there is concern, and expressing our opinions on matters that are important to us."
The student representative also has a spot on the monthly school board agenda to deliver a report.
"By incorporating our students' voice into that, it has made me a better board member, because my kids are older now and this keeps me in touch with the kids of now and what's going on in our schools," Byrd said.