TUESDAY, MAY 26, 1998

High School Student Representative to be Elected to Madison School Board

The months-long push by Madison high school students to gain a voice on the Madison school board has met success: next fall, an elected student representative will join the school board for the first time in nearly twenty years.

On May 4 -- after a student-run drive that began last fall and eventually included meetings with school board committees, student groups, and each of Madison's high school principals -- the Madison school board voted to create a position on the board for an elected high school student representative. The student representative will not have a vote or be able to attend closed executive sessions of the board, but will otherwise serve as a full school board member, presenting the opinions and interests of students.

The first student representative will be elected early next fall after a city-wide campaign in which candidates will speak at each high school, on the district's cable channel, and at open forum meetings downtown. All high school students will be eligible to run for either the office of student representative or alternate representative. The elected student representative will receive one high school credit and be expected to attend every relevant board meeting over the next year.

Madison has a tradition of student activism and representation on the board. In the 1970s, former state representative David Clarenbach and Sen. Chuck Chvala both got their starts in politics by serving as student members of the board. Andrew Munts, the 1976 student representative, said that having a student on the board "reminded the board that students were the primary customers, not the administrators and teachers."

The students behind the new drive see this as a primary goal: "If students are required by law to attend school every day, they should have a real voice in how the schools are governed," explained Ben Wikler, a junior at West High School. Objecting to the school board's proposed deal with the Coca-Cola corporation, Wikler joined Shabazz students Jim Ploesser and Jessica Murnane last October in requesting a structure for meaningful student input in school board decisions.

The original student spot on the board disappeared as students reportedly burned out during long meetings and grew disconnected from student concerns. The new system is set up to avoid these pitfalls: a Madison Student Senate will be created next fall to advise the student representative about student issues, and the student representative will be encouraged to avoid taking on jobs or joining committees not relevant to student concerns.

The Madison Student Senate is the other main tenet of the new system. As well as advising the student representative, the group will act as a sort of city-wide student government, electing its own officers and coordinating collaborative projects between the schools. Students wishing to represent their schools on the Student Senate are encouraged to ask their principals and student council advisors about membership next fall. The alternate student representative will act as chair of the body.

About one-third of Wisconsin's 426 school boards already have student representatives. Madison representative will be unique in that he or she will be elected by fellow students. With a mandate from his or her peers, the student representative will work for students' rights and keep the board focused on its most important mission: serving Madison's kids.


Madison Metropolitan School District

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Last Modified: 06/09/98
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