Rethinking student-rep selection process

Washougal High Principal Sheree Clark hopes to open school board liaison positions to younger, more diverse, students

Washougal High School leaders were supposed to begin the process of selecting the school’s student representatives to the Washougal School District board of directors for the 2020-21 school year in March 2020.

Their priorities significantly shifted after the COVID-19 pandemic closed the school building and forced students and teachers to transition to a remote learning model.

As a result, they didn’t select any representatives for the current, 2020-21 school year.

Now, Washougal High Principal Sheree Clark hopes to establish a new and improved process for choosing student representatives for the school board.

“(Selecting student representatives) wasn’t necessarily at the forefront of what we were doing in March,” Clark said during the Washougal School Board’s Jan. 26 meeting. “But this is something that I’m excited about. I think it’s really important for our students to be part of this process. There are some changes that we want to make, but we’re going to take a pause right now, let us all get our bearings, and then this spring we’ll start looking for selections and identifying students for the next school year.”

Then-senior Maliyah Veale and then-junior Briahna Ruth served as the school’s representatives during the 2019-20 school year. They prepared and delivered reports about high school activities and issues to board members, and made presentations to other Washougal students about the topics discussed at board meetings.

“We really want (student representatives) to be a voice to the board regarding student issues, questions and concerns, but also to celebrate our successes,” Clark said. “These students will represent the students’ interests and be the student voice on policy and procedure. Whether they win or lose, if they’ve been a part of (the decision-making process), it’s easier for them to accept the outcomes. I think it’s really important that our students have that voice at the school board level.”

Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said the district is “very eager to have student representatives come to (its) meetings on a regular basis.”

“We want to find a system and codify a system that works for our current generation and the next,” Templeton said. “We’ll be supportive of the adjustments that (Clark) is making, and we’ll have that in our toolkit as we move forward. If we want to or need to adjust or tweak that in the future we certainly can, but I think we have a nice foundation as we look to the next three, five, 10 years of how we incorporate authentic student voice at the board level.”

Clark proposed several changes to the selection process during the meeting and said the positions should be open to students in all grade levels, instead of just including juniors and seniors.

“Not that the junior or senior grade levels are not important; they are actually very important,” Clark said. “But I wonder if we got a freshman connected early to making a difference in their school, what impact might that have? (We should) select students not based on their grade level but on their interest to serve, their willingness and wanting to make a change. We have plenty of freshmen and sophomores who are mature enough and ready and willing to serve in this capacity.”

Clark also proposed that student representatives not be required to be members of the school’s Associated Student Body.

“We know that our students that are in ASB are serving often, leading by example and doing great work. Their voices are often always heard,” she said. “I would like to make sure this is an opportunity for other students to have their voices heard. A really important part of this is, as we push forward in our equity work, we want to make sure that diversity is really represented in the student representatives.”

Clark also said that the representatives should serve multi-year terms, suggesting that a freshman could sign up for two years, then decide whether to re-apply for another two years once they begin their junior year.

(A multi-year commitment) really allows our students to bring forward the change that they want to have happen and really see that through — provide information to the board that the board seeks, make sure that they’re hitting all the benchmarks that they need to be hitting and to see the effect of change through this process,” she said. “Furthermore, we know that relationships matter. The more you get to know them and they get to know you, the better this will be, not only for the school board for our community as a whole.”

Board members Donna Sinclair and Angela Hancock voiced their approval of Clark’s plan during the meeting.

“I see this as a really wonderful, professional-development opportunity,” Sinclair said. “I think if we could bring someone in early and engage them with not just the board, but the legislative process, (that would be great). One of the ways that we can best advocate for our school district is having students engaged in the advocacy process. At this point, it sounds more like a job application that really is deserving of being on a college application and receiving a letter of recommendation.”