Op-Ed

Students should help shape Ky. educational policy

By Susie Smith, Sahil Nair, Ross Boggess and Eliza Jane Schaeffer

Several weeks ago, members of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team called for students to be included in the search for Fayette County's next superintendent.

The screening committee, charged with leading this search, is mandated by law to include two teachers, one board of education member, one principal, one parent and one classified employee.

Though KRS 160.352 also makes special provisions for minority representation, the law falls short in ensuring representation by the system's stakeholders-in-chief: its students.

The idea of including students is not revolutionary.

The American Association of School Administrators stresses the importance of gathering feedback from students, among other key stakeholders, because we "tend to be more in touch with the day-to-day needs (of the district) than is the board."

And evidence from around the country is emerging that testifies to the fact that we can handle the responsibility.

Washington State's Federal Way Public Schools have commissioned a Student Superintendent Search Advisory Committee.

And in Boston, young people recently waged a spirited campaign for students to be included in the committee in charge of their superintendent search and greatly contributed to the process.

In Fayette County, the evolving District Student Council had been working with adult allies to explore ways to include students in the process to replace Superintendent Tom Shelton. But while the group has received assurances that students will be consulted, the board has said that the law ties its hands with regard to the search committee itself.

The issues surrounding this search process are part of a larger problem. Education policymaking in Kentucky systematically excludes students by neglecting to create space for student input on relevant school governance issues or by denying our participation outright in bodies like site-based decision-making councils and local school boards and committees.

The Student Voice Team has been beating the drum for the past two years, calling for reform and the inclusion of students. While progress has been made, it is time for Kentucky to take a bolder step.

Our group is exploring legislative strategies to institutionalize the integration of student voices throughout education across the commonwealth.

We urge parents, teachers, students and others who agree to affirm their position by signing our online petition at chn.ge/1DC1qai.

As high school students, we are required by law to take a citizenship class meant to underscore the value of democratic participation, yet here we are, trying to become informed and engaged, and having to fight to be heard.

Trust us to apply the knowledge we have learned to help improve our schools. #StudentVoiceMatters.

Susie Smith, Sahil Nair, Ross Boggess and Eliza Jane Schaeffer are Fayette public school students and members of the Prichard Committee's Student Voice Team.

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