February 24, 2015

Students Testify on Superintendent Screening Bill

FRANKFORT — Three high school students testified in front of the House Education Committee Tuesday, February 24 on a bill to include a student on superintendent screening committees. The bill, HB 236, amends KRS 160.352 to provide district school boards the option of allowing a peer-selected high school student representative to sit on the committee. Current law limits the committee to two teachers, one principal, one classified staff, one parent, one board member and, in some cases, a minority member.

Eliza Jane Schaeffer, a junior at Henry Clay High School; Amanda Wahlstedt, a junior at Knox Central High School; and Sahil Nair, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, testified on behalf of the  Student Voice Team. The students spoke in front of the Committee about how students are currently tokenized when involved in school governance. They made the case for integration of meaningful student representation into the superintendent search committee, a process that affects them most significantly.

“We are disappointed that Kentucky law and the Attorney General have excluded even the mere possibility of our participation in the superintendent screening process,” testified Nair. “We are the chief stakeholders after all. Shouldn’t we at least be considered as partners at the decision-making table?”

“Many students want to do more than hold bake sales or plan school dances,” said Fabian Leon, a senior at West Jessamine High School who was one of over two dozen other student activists who turned out to support their colleagues at the hearing. “The serious students I know desire to have an impact on improving our schools at a systemic level.  The opportunity to help choose a school superintendent recognizes that possibility.”

In November, students from the group asked the Fayette County School Board to include a student on the superintendent screening committee. The Board informed the students that a student representative could not be included because of state law and a strict interpretation of it by the Attorney General’s office. The Student Voice Team began to write legislation, search for a bill sponsor, and build support in the education policy community for amending the structure of the superintendent screening committee. In January, Fayette County passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to amend the law to include a student representative. On February 3rd, the Chairman of the House Education Committee, Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort), filed the bill for the students as its sponsor.

The Kentucky Association of School Councils, Center for Teaching Quality, Kentucky Center for Education Policy, SoundOut, Inspire Kentucky and Student Voice are among local and national advocacy groups that have formally endorsed the Student Voice Team’s efforts.

The Student Voice Team was founded in 2012 at the Prichard Committee, a nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky for all ages. 

Since 2021 they have been the Kentucky Student Voice Team, an independent, statewide organization organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.