Washougal City Council rethinks its student reps

New process opens position to ‘broad spectrum’ of local youth

At their Aug. 12 meeting, Washougal city council members approved a motion to adopt a policy that will establish a selection process for the council’s student representatives.

The policy, which will go into effect for the 2020-21 school year, was the brainchild of council member Alex Yost, who worked with city manager David Scott, city administrative assistant Rose Jewell and Aaron Hansen, the former principal at Washougal High School (WHS), now an assistant superintendent for the Washougal School District (WSD).

During the past several years a single representative was selected by Hansen — a process Yost felt was exclusive.

“After I was appointed to the council, I was curious about how we selected our student reps,” Yost said. “We were getting great kids, but at the same time I think we were leaving out a whole other broad spectrum of kids that were not on the principal’s radar. I wanted to try to change the way we select the kids to put them through a process instead of tapping a kid who always gets picked for these kinds of things.”

The new guidelines state that two students will be selected by a selection committee comprised of Washougal Mayor Molly Coston, one Washougal City Council member, the incumbent student representative and two WSD educators selected by WHS principal Sheree Gomez-Clark. The student representative will be a senior and the alternate will be a junior.

The policy originally stated that the students had to reside within school district’s boundaries, but after some debate concerning students who may live in Washougal but be outside the WSD boundary lines, council members voted to amend the policy to state that the students must reside within Washougal city limits or WSD boundaries.

At the Aug. 12 meeting, council member Michelle Wagner said students living within city limits who attend a Camas School District school or private school or are home-schooled should be eligible for the student representative position.

“I think you have a little bit of a hole. Someone at a private school within the district could be eligible,” Wagner said. “If you’re going to do that, you should open it to the entirety of the city. If someone from Camas High School lives in our city, they should have the opportunity to serve, too. I recognize that we want the connection with the high school, but we have part of our city that goes to a different school district.”

At a July 29 workshop session, council member Ray Kutch said the council should be “trying to create river of information between (the council) and the school district and vice versa.”

“Our goal is to bring some folks from Washougal School District to the council and let them carry messages back to the school district from us,” he said. “I think at some point down the road it might not be a bad idea for us to go into the schools and introduce ourselves. The students don’t see what government does in the local community. We got a bunch of gray-hairs on this thing except for (Yost). We could probably use some younger folks on board.”

Yost told the Post-Record she agreed with the decision to amend the policy.

“I’m talking about (eliminating) exclusivity, so the last thing I want to do is not include a group of students,” she said.

The selection process will occur each year between March and May. Interested students will complete a formal application, and the selection committee will determine which applicants to interview as finalists pursuant to guidelines adopted by the committee, which may establish other screening and selection processes, including a public presentation.

“There’s so many kids that maybe don’t know that this is a chance to get involved,” Yost said. “It’s important that we created a process that was open to everybody. It’s not just the kids in the spotlight who are in tune with what’s going on.”

After interviewing the finalists and conducting the screening and selection process, the committee will select the representative and alternate, who will serve for one year starting with the second council meeting of June.

The representative will be provided an agenda and supporting documentation in advance of each meeting and will be encouraged to participate in council discussions, but won’t be allowed to vote on matters before the council. The alternate will be encouraged to attend council meetings as an audience member and will fill in if the representative can’t attend a meeting.

“They get experience that will help them in the future – going through an application process, finding out how decisions are made in our city government, making connections, networking with individuals and seeing what’s happening in their community,” Hansen said. “The council will get the perspective of this upcoming generation, how they think, how they communicate. I think there will be this mutual benefit, back and forth. We really want these student representatives to contribute and have a voice, then also connect them back with our student representatives (at the high school).”

WHS senior Lauren Boyles served as the school’s representative to the city council last school year. During meetings, she observed, took notes and gave reports about upcoming events at the high school.

“I thought it was cool to learn how city government works, how the citizens of Washougal communicate with the people that have the power, and how the council members listen to people and take what they’re saying to heart,” Boyles said. “I was super nervous, especially on day one, but everyone was super friendly, and by the third meeting I wasn’t afraid to talk.”

Boyles won’t serve as the student representative this school year, but will assist in the selection process for the next representative and serve as a mentor to him or her.

“I think it’s important to get a new person in there and let them have their turn,” she said. “I would tell them there’s no reason to be nervous, and to jump into the conversation and ask questions. (The council members) are very open to explaining stuff; (council member Paul) Greenlee noticed several times that I didn’t understand what was being said and passed me notes that explained what stuff meant. I would tell the new person, ‘Don’t be afraid to share your opinion.'”

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