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Hernando School Board to vote on whether to add a student representative to the board

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando School Board members might soon be scooting over to make room for a student on the dais.

The board on Tuesday will consider a recommendation by superintendent Bryan Blavatt to approve a student representative for the board.

"The largest stakeholders in the school district are the students, and they should have an opportunity to have a direct voice to the board and the superintendent," Blavatt said. "My experience in education is they tend to be much more aware. They're living it every day."

The representative would not be allowed to vote but would be "encouraged to provide, in an appropriate manner and at the appropriate time on the meeting agenda, timely and thoughtful advice to the School Board on matters of interest to students," according to a draft policy.

The term of service would run from September through April, coinciding with the school year, and the position would be considered an extracurricular activity. Eligible students must be a high school junior or senior with a minimum, unweighted grade point average of 2.5.

Blavatt already has a superintendent's advisory council composed of students from the district's middle and high schools. The council has been meeting for several months and "uniformly" supported the idea, he said.

Ellen Pribil, a 17-year-old senior at Central, is on the council.

"I think it will be innovating,'' Pribil said. "You could be on the School Board (as an adult), but you don't know exactly what's happening. It will be a voice from the actual schools."

The draft policy states the representative would be elected by that council, but that's open for discussion. On Wednesday, Blavatt offered a possible scenario: Candidates from each high school would mount campaigns, and delegates from the elementary, middle, K-8 and high school levels would elect the representative.

"Almost like an electoral college," Blavatt said.

The board's regular meetings are held at 7 p.m. every other Tuesday in Brooksville. Final votes on policy changes take place during those meetings, but that's often a formality. By then, the board has hashed out issues and come to a consensus during workshops, typically held at 2 p.m. By then, the school day is nearly over at four of Hernando's five high schools.

Acknowledging this, Blavatt said the board could opt to invite the representative to workshops when the agenda includes issues that stand to have a big impact on students.

Blavatt has firsthand experience with teens on the dais. A student representative joined the board in Boone County, Ky., about two years into his 12-year tenure as superintendent there. He said the move was successful, recalling how the student input came in especially handy during a discussion about the district's field trip policy — an issue the Hernando board may tackle in the coming months.

"Everything they do is for the students, so why shouldn't there be a student on the board?" said Tyler Payne, a 17-year-old Central junior and member of the superintendent's committee.

Would Payne consider running for the post?

"Definitely," Payne said. "I actually was planning on it."

Hernando Board Chairman James Yant called Blavatt's proposal a good idea. He also favors having the student at workshops, whether that means moving the start time or simply inviting the representative to certain workshops so they don't miss too much class time.

"Students have a different perspective on things than we do," Yant said. "They can give us some good input, and I don't think you can ask for anything more positive than that for students and parents."

None of the Tampa Bay area counties has a student representative. It's unclear how many of the 67 school boards in Florida have one, but at least a handful do. Among them is Flagler County, south of Jacksonville.

"We love it," said Flagler superintendent Janet Valentine. "Sometimes (the students) have just a whole new fresh look at something we may be dealing with."

The principal at each of Flagler's two high schools selects a student representative for the school year, and those two students alternate meetings. The representative sits on the dais and also attends workshops — Flagler's are held at 5 p.m. They can speak up at any time, Valentine said.

"We've talked about budget reductions, about school schedules and shortening the school day, and both of those students have given us a lot of insight on how that might affect students," she said.

In Martin County, north of Palm Beach, the three high schools alternate each year, but the student presents a report on the happenings at all three schools, said spokeswoman Cathy Brennan. The student sits off to the side of the dais with the assistant superintendent and doesn't actively participate in the discussion unless asked to weigh in, Brennan said.

An online search turned up student representatives on school boards throughout the country, from Oakland, Calif., to Rockville, Md.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando School Board to vote on whether to add a student representative to the board 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 8:07pm]

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