February 8, 2015

Add Students to Superintendent Search Teams

By Nicole Fielder, Eliza Jane Schaeffer & Susie Smith

When Fayette County Public Schools began looking for a new superintendent late last year, members of the Student Voice Team asked the school board to include a student representative on the screening committee. Although board members told us they would make every effort to include students in the superintendent selection process, they said the makeup of the committee was set by state law and did not include a student member.

That law, and a strict interpretation of it by the attorney general’s office, constrained the school board’s otherwise-sincere attempts to involve students more deeply in this critically important work. Although the law purports to create a more inclusive process, it limits the membership of the superintendent screening committee to 2 teachers, 1 board of education member, 1 principal, 1 parent, 1 classified employee, and, in some cases, 1 minority member.

This is not acceptable to the Student Voice Team.

As a statewide group of middle school through college-age students working as partners to improve Kentucky public schools, we know that well-informed young people can contribute significantly to discussions about school governance, and we are disappointed that Kentucky law excludes the possibility of our participation. We are the chief stakeholders; shouldn’t our perspective be part of the process?

Including students at more significant levels of school governance is not a revolutionary idea.

In Federal Way Public Schools in Washington, students are a formal part of the superintendent search process. Montgomery County, Maryland, has a peer-elected student on the school board and Hawaii has an advisory student member on the state board of education who can vote on committees. Closer to home, DuPont Manual High School in Louisville is leading the way by including a student representative on its site-based decision making council.

After considerable research and consultation with experts, we discovered that the only way to allow for meaningful student representation on a screening committee is by amending KRS 160.352. A house bill filed this week (HB 236) by Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, would accomplish that goal.

In addition to our effort to amend the superintendent screening process, we are enlisting sponsors in each chamber to introduce a resolution (HRC 69) recognizing the value that students bring to discussions about education policy and asking school districts to make it a priority to include students in school governance policies and programs. At the same time, we are talking with the leaders of education advocacy groups to share strategies and shore up support.

We are willing and able to do what it takes to change the law and the conversation around student capacity in school governance, but should it really be such a battle?

When it comes to education, it is undeniable that students have the most skin in the game. Because we are the first to feel the effects of policy decisions, it follows that we should be included as partners at the table to share our insights to help improve a system that affects us so directly.

Kentucky has long been at the forefront of education reform. Reforming school governance to include students ensures Kentucky will stay on the cutting edge and shows the entire nation that the commonwealth knows student voice matters.

This op-ed originally ran in the Courier Journal.

Nicole Fielder

Nicole Fielder

Nicole is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. She was previously the Legislative Affairs Director. Nicole graduated from West Jessamine High School in 2015 and the University of Louisville in 2019.

Eliza Jane Schaeffer

Eliza Jane Schaeffer

Eliza Jane is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. She was previously the Chair of the School Governance Committee and founding Editor-In-Chief of the Student Voice Forum. Eliza Jane graduated from Henry Clay High School in 2016 and Dartmouth University in 2020.

Susie Smith

Susie Smith

Susie is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. She graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2015 and the University of Kentucky in 2019.