Students display their power—and prowess—at the State Board’s November meeting

By Peter Wright, CSBA Policy and Programs Officer

November’s State Board of Education meeting began as usual: Pledge of Allegiance, announcements, Superintendent’s report, speakers in snappy suits making informed comments on complex education policy, etc.  What was quite outside of the norm was that the speakers were not lobbyists or longtime Sacramento policy wonks, but California high school students.

Several dozen students traveled to Sacramento with the California Association of Student Councils (CASC) to spend a few days researching and debating education policy and eventually designing policy recommendations to be presented to the SBE.  The official agenda item read, “Reports from the 2013 Student Advisory Board on Education” and should not for a moment be taken as a cutesy, sophomoric exercise of the professional board humoring a student exercise.  The presenters’ demeanors were a mix of a dogged advocate who is certain he or she is on the right side of history, and a skilled politico with a knack for framing his or her complex argument in just a few simple phrases that everyone can agree with.  I will be calling on CASC for coaching before I go in front of the board again.

Not only did the presenters have an impressive grasp of the latest academic research, they skillfully spun the research into actionable proposals that could work in the real world.  When hearing the proposals I thought—more than a few times—why are we not already doing that?  For example, a school must be able to demonstrate a positive school climate before being awarded the honor of becoming a California Distinguished School.

Or when I heard a proposal on incorporating a student survey in the consultation process in the development of the upcoming Local Control Accountability Plans, I thought why have I not heard that suggested until now?  What a great idea!

SBE President Michael Kirst greeted the proposals warmly and spent some time during the board’s discussion of the proposals to ensure that they were referred to the right places.  Some of the student presenters were especially pleased with State Board Member Bruce Holiday’s invitation to meet in the future along with Executive Director Karen Stapf Walters to discuss the progress of the proposals.

One of CASC’s goals is to reach out to more students and empower them to be active in shaping the schools they want.

The Nov. 6 meeting was an important reminder to all who regularly attend SBE meetings and give input of who we are working for—the students.  It was also a demonstration of the educational experience we aspire to make available to all Californians—innovative, interactive, stimulating, and purposeful.  Power to the students for keeping us on track.

I would like to thank Cameron Keegan, Government Affairs Director for CASC and Analy High School Representative to the West Sonoma County Union School District Board of Trustees for speaking with me about the CASC recommendations to the SBE.

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