Amplifying student voices

Washougal School District revamping how student representatives interact with board of directors

Earlier this year Washougal School District superintendent Mary Templeton and Washougal High School principal Aaron Hansen had a conversation about the role of the high school’s student representatives to the district’s board of directors.

For the past 10 years, the school has been sending selected students to deliver reports at school board meetings, but Templeton and Hansen agreed they wanted to come up with and implement a formal policy that instructs how the representatives will be chosen, as well as their roles and responsibilities while giving them more of a “voice.”

Hansen conducted research, developed a plan and presented it to the board of directors at their March 26 meeting.

The plan calls for two students – one senior and one junior – to be selected as representatives for each school year beginning in 2019-20. Both students must be part of Washougal High’s student council and in good academic standing.

The board members had positive reactions to the plan.

“I like the direction that we’re going with this,” Washougal School Board Chair Cory Chase said. “I’m excited to have that representation and to have feedback and the opportunity to interact (with students) and have them be part of our board. I think it’ll be good. We’ll make them part of the team for sure. It’s a great opportunity for them to try to have some involvement and add something to their resume.”

The student representatives will be expected to convey student opinions to the school board members and report board deliberations and actions to the Washougal High student body. The student representatives will attend all regular school board meetings and special meetings if requested, have a chance to review school board packets and reading materials before meetings, participate in discussion during meetings and provide reports about student activities, topics and concerns. They will not be able to make any motions or vote.

They also will have the chance to participate in board training sessions when invited, such as the Washington State School Directors’ Association Annual Conference and Legislative Assembly.

Representatives will be chosen in the spring, prior to the upcoming school year, after submitting applications and being interviewed by one or more directors, Templeton, Hansen and the high school’s student council advisor, Kyla Ritchey.

“(Students) do have a lot to say. They have great ideas and they can articulate their ideas very well,” Hansen said. “The more that we can tap into their thoughts, ideas and experiences (the better), because I see things (differently) from what they’re seeing. Anytime we have a chance to get their feedback and gather ideas, we need to listen.”

Templeton said even though the students won’t be voting on action items during meetings, their input will be heavily valued by the school board members.

“During meetings, I make a report, and then I defer to the assistant superintendent (Renae Burson) to make a report as well. I think this will be the same concept,” Templeton said. “The students will tell us about what they’re engaged in. Then, as we roll through the rest of the meeting, we have a lot of informational presentations that don’t involve action items, so the students will have chances to ask questions and make comments. Whether the board members use that opinion when they’re making decisions is up to them, but at least they have that (student) voice. That’s the critical piece.”

During this school year, the school has sent six representatives to meetings – Hannah Toops, Dylan Van Horn, Emmy Campen, Anabelle Palmer, Faith Torgerson and Kiarra Callie. One of their main responsibilities was to present the board members with an answer to a question, such as “Based on your experiences, what do you believe are essential skills and attributes of being an outstanding student?” and “What is the best way for the school district to integrate technology into its curriculums?”

Hansen said the new plan for student representatives is to have them do more than just answer a question.

“The idea is the students are going to have much more of a voice in what’s going on and give the (school board members) a perspective from our students,” Hansen said.

Templeton said the student representatives will benefit in many ways from the district’s updated plan.

“More than anything, it will give students a chance to see how decisions are made locally, and that can expand their knowledge about how decisions are made at the state and national level,” she said. “We don’t have the voter participation in the system that we need, so what better way to show kids what the process looks like than this? This is a chance for them to see how decisions are made that impact lives.”

The district’s staff and school board members will benefit as well, Templeton said.

“Why wouldn’t we want to know firsthand about what (the students are) thinking and their experiences and what’s working and what’s not?” Templeton said. “I’m confident one of the gaps in public education is that we’re not asking students to tell us what they think often enough. This is a critical piece for us to get our system to rise to the top. We’re always looking for authentic ways to connect. Their voice isn’t just an opinion. Their voice is part of the team.”