Seattle student board members seek ways to make positions more influential
March 17, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 4:17 p.m.
It’s almost been one full school year since Seattle Public Schools added three students to the School Board, and although students say they are learning and growing, they also believe more work needs to be done to make these positions have impact.
Some frustrations and concerns about the positions have been expressed by students, who want to be let in on policymaking discussions earlier in the process, as well as from district staff, who say the board gave students an opportunity that wasn’t fully thought out.
Board members said they expected growing pains. The resolution adding students was meant to be changed and developed as the board gained experience with having student representatives.
“I think it’s super exciting we have student board members,” board member Liza Rankin said. She added: “Moving forward, what has to happen is better defining the role and talking to the students themselves.”
Board members were clear they wanted these positions to be meaningful. Student board member Luna Crone-Barone said she doesn’t think the district is there yet.
“I think they are working on it and I appreciate them for doing that,” she said. “I cannot say they have succeeded at this point in time, but what I do trust is they are really working to make that true.”
The board created student positions to incorporate youth voices in decision- making and to show students how government works. The NAACP Youth Council advocated for the positions for nearly two years, and worked alongside the School Board to make it happen.
“What I’m really excited about, in terms of how to improve the program, is to focus on students instead of figuring out ways to fit students in the process that is already developed and has been running this way a long time,” Board President Brandon Hersey said.
Crone-Baron, Nassira Hassan and Jia Li (Jenna) Yuan are the first students to join the district’s seven board members at the dais. Students take turns attending board meetings, which typically last between two and four hours, and are paid $17.27 an hour, not to exceed 20 hours per month.
Students had to go through an application and interview process, get references, and create a video explaining why they wanted to be on the board. Every school year, the board will pick three, five, or seven new student board members.
Hassan, a senior at Chief Sealth High School, said the first student board members are “paving the way and trying to make some things different for next year so the next group of students could look back and have some more structure.”
All three student board members said they would have had more influence if they had been included in policy discussions while new rules were being developed. This school year, the students were able to speak during board comments at public meetings, but that was usually too late to create change.
“I think my voice has definitely been heard, but what this position is really focused on is more of the end process after everything is already done,” said Yuna, a senior at Franklin High School. She said she was disappointed the student board members weren’t able to create policy change, and “I think that was part of the fulfillment that I was trying to get.”
Board meetings can go on for hours, which might not be the best use of time for student board members, said Vivian Song-Maritz, SPS board member. She agreed that students might have more influence if they were heard during the policy-developing phase.
Hearing high school student perspectives during discussion has been “extremely helpful,” said Song Maritz. As the mom of elementary school kids, she’s not as familiar with the concerns of older students, she said.
Three board members were assigned to be mentors to the students. Rankin, who is a mentor to Hassan, said it’s been positive overall, but the roles and selection process needs to be better defined.
Mentors should be chosen based on what each student wants to learn and is interested in, Hersey said. And that could mean a SPS employee would make a better fit, he said, especially since board policies are most often created and developed by staff.
On average, Crone-Baron said she spends about three to five hours per week working on student board-related work. But the workload could change in the future as the positions are more defined, Hassan said. The student board members said district staff and board members are all mindful of not interrupting their school work or extracurricular activities.
Right now students are working with staff to launch an Instagram page as a way to get out information and communicate with students and the community.
Being a board member has helped Hassan with public speaking and connected her with more students, she said, and the role has meant a lot to her.
“You don’t really see many African American Muslim kids, especially girls, using their voice,” she said. “Using my voice has really got me to where I’m at right now. You don’t need to shy away from using your voice.”
Crone-Baron, a junior at Nathan Hale High School, said learning about how the school system works and how decisions are made has been “fascinating” but realizing the inevitable bureaucracy and restraints school boards have was “frustrating.”
And it’s also just been a hard school year, she said.
“When I was applying I didn’t think I would be crying on the dais about a student getting murdered on campus,” she said. “Never did I think that would happen.”
An Ingraham High student, 17-year-old Ebenezer Haile, was shot and killed at the school Nov. 8. A regularly scheduled board meeting was the next day, where Superintendent Brent Jones, students, and elected board members discussed the tragedy and safety plans moving forward.
Student board member applications for the 2023-24 school year are open. Students entering their junior or senior years are eligible. The deadline to apply is April 3.
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