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Power to the students

Paducah Independent school board members are joined by 10 students during March meeting
Paducah’s student school board program going strong
 
Kentucky School Advocate
June 2019
 
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer
Paducah Independent school board Chairman Carl LeBuhn (center) is flanked by Paducah Tilghman High School seniors Megan Davis and Keyshun Curry during the district’s March meeting.
Paducah Independent school board Chairman Carl LeBuhn (center) is flanked by Paducah Tilghman High School seniors Megan Davis and Keyshun Curry during the district’s March meeting. 
 
There are 867 school board seats in Kentucky’s public schools. But for one night every March, that number grows by 10.

That’s when students run the Paducah Independent school board meeting, making motions and reading agenda items.

“I really didn’t have any idea what the board members really did, what a board meeting looked like,” said Paducah Tilghman High School senior Megan Davis. “So it was really cool to learn about what they do.” 

Paducah Independent started the Bobby L. Jones Future School Board Members program in 2001 to introduce students to the role of school board members. Each year, two students from each of the district’s five schools are selected to participate.

Paducah Independent board member Janice Howard said the program not only gives students the opportunity to experience the inner workings of a school board, but is also a good civics lesson.

“They learn how to prepare for a meeting and understand the process of how to conduct a meeting,” Howard said. “I also think it is an excellent confidence builder and it might even be a catalyst for these students to participate in leadership roles in the future.”

Students spend the morning learning about school boards and how meetings are conducted, then during the meeting, the students are assigned to sit alongside a board member.

Developing the whole child
Jones, a former board member, championed the program as a way to show students the impact school boards have on a district.

“He wanted young people to be involved because with him being in politics, he wanted them to see how boards ran and maybe get them involved in social-type issues,” said Arthur Davis, Paducah Tilghman High School’s principal who is retiring at the end of the school year. “He was an innovator and believed students are sometimes limited to what they see, and he wanted them to see a broader picture of society.”
Paducah Independent started the Bobby L. Jones Future School Board Member program nearly 20 years ago to help develop future leaders. Jones is pictured in the back center of the 2002 group photo. (Photo courtesy of Paducah Independent Schools)
Paducah Independent started the Bobby L. Jones Future School Board Member program nearly 20 years ago to help develop future leaders. Jones is pictured in the back center of the 2002 group photo. (Photo courtesy of Paducah Independent Schools) 
 
After Jones’ death in 2003, the district decided to continue the program, something Superintendent Donald Shively believes would make Jones proud. 

“I definitely think Mr. Jones was focused on developing the whole child and part of that is service and leadership, and as you look at how we put this together, it gives our students … lots of insight into public service through being a board member and a civic duty,” Shively said. “I think at the same time it helps develop our young leaders throughout our district by giving them leadership development that they receive throughout the day that we’ve put together.”

Four years ago, the district was discussing changing its grading scale back to a 90-100 scale for an A. The board meeting in which the final plan was to be discussed coincided with the student board meeting.

“You want to talk about some students that had a lot of insight and feelings on our grading scale. It was an eye-opening experience,” Shively said. 

School board member Felix Akojie, who was first appointed to fill Jones’ seat, said the program helps students understand school board members’ role.

“Sometimes when you ask one of the district students about a school board member, they say they don’t know anything about school boards,” he said. “With this, they’ll know something, and they’ll tell their peers that this is what school board members do.”

Cultivating leadership
Paducah Tilghman math teacher Leo McKinely participated in the program in 2004 as a high school senior. The interactions with professionals are valuable experiences for students, he said.

“You’re cultivating that leadership,” McKinely said. “Plus, they’re getting to take an interest in something. So, I think it’s just good for them to schmooze with the people that are from the community outside of their everyday teachers and maybe inspires them to get into some kind of civic service or just be a leader in whatever their chosen profession will be down the road.”

McKinely said the program can also help “break that wall of separation down between the school board and the students.

“I think more schools should definitely do this because these students in 25 years are going to be in those positions and they need to be groomed for them, and I think this program allows you to do that,” McKinely said. “As people in general, our job is to help those around us, especially those who are younger. This or any other program like this that allows us to give back like that, I think it’s prudent that we do things like that.”

McKinely, who is also a local minister, said he has thought about running for an elected office one day, possibly even a seat on the school board. If that happens, it would be a dream realized for many in the district.

“I’m looking forward to one or two of the participants running for school board in the future,” Akojie said.
 
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