4 leaders raise student voice during turbulent times

"Our kids are skilled in civic discourse in a way many adults aren't," superintendent says
By: | January 11, 2021
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The COVD pandemic has only redoubled many superintendents’ commitment to building student voice in their districts.

High school students in Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon have joined equity teams to tackle antiracism and gender, among other issues, Superintendent Christy Perry said during a webinar for the 2021 superintendent of the year candidates hosted by AASA,  The School Superintendents Association last week.

“Our kids are so skilled—they’re skilled in civic discourse in a way many adults aren’t,” Perry said.

One Salem-Keizer student group has mounted a campaign to spend money at local Black-owned businesses. Another student task force have developed recommendations on school resource officers for a report that will be shared with the community.

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Students in Pennsylvania’s Reading School District have maintained regular communication with district leaders, Superintendent Khalid Mumin said.

Mumin meets regularly with a leadership squad comprised of high school students.

In recent years, these groups have been instrumental in helping the district plan for events such as allowing students to walk out of class to protest gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at Parkland High School in 2018.

Schools are a safe place for students to begin learning how to remain engaged civically, Mumin said.

“As the leader of a school system where 99% of students are underserved and they are choosing to exercise voice, who am I to put a lid on that?” he said. “These young people will be fighting for a seat at the table for the rest of their lives.”

In the Northshore School District near Seattle, high school students have been anxious because the colleges they are applying are asking for mid-year grades in the place of canceled SAT snd ACT exams, Superintendent Michelle Reid said.

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Student leaders have been working with staff to support these seniors. Other student leaders have tackled mental health by distributing newsletters and organizing forums.

And at Hamilton County Schools in Tennessee, student “voice and choice data” is key when administrators are developing annual budgets, Superintendent Bryan Johnson said.

“Students are very transparent in what they share,” Johnson said. “They are very comfortable in telling where there are issues.”