BROOKSVILLE — For Tori Selby, the shoe leather made the difference.
During her two-week campaign to become the Hernando School Board's first student representative, the 17-year-old Springstead High senior and her campaign volunteers hit the hallways and sidewalks, visiting nearly all of the district's elementary, middle and K-8 schools.
"We felt that was the best way to get to know (students) and hear their opinions," Selby said.
It paid off Wednesday when Selby won a landslide victory in a four-way election held in the Nature Coast Technical High School's Black Box Theater.
Selby took 29 of the 43 votes cast by delegates from every school in the district. Hernando High senior Judhit Zarazua received eight votes; Nature Coast senior Maria Campos received four votes; and Central High senior Darius Robinson took two votes.
The election marks an historic moment for Hernando schools. Earlier this year, superintendent Bryan Blavatt brought a proposal to the board to create the non-voting, unpaid student position. The high school junior or senior will act as a conduit for student concerns and provide board members with perspective from a large part of their constituency, Blavatt said.
The delegates got their first look at the four candidates earlier this month at a nominating convention held in the Nature Coast theater. The candidates represented each high school except for Weeki Wachee High, which did not have a nominee because it opened just last year with only freshmen and sophomores; it doesn't yet have a full contingent of upperclassmen.
"I couldn't have asked for four better candidates," Blavatt told the field before the vote.
Selby is president of Springstead's Beta Club and a member of the National Honor Society. She helps serve food to the needy each Sunday as a volunteer for People Helping People, and teaches a religion class at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church
Before the vote Wednesday, she vowed to be an assertive voice for the district's roughly 22,000 students.
"I would not stop at anything to make sure you guys are heard," she said.
As the candidates spoke, the delegates sat in bleachers decorated with balloons, holding signs designating their school. There were three delegates for each K-8 and high school, two for each middle school and one for each elementary school.
After the speeches, Blavatt called the delegations, one by one, to the front of theater. The students each took a ballot, checked their choice and stuffed the sheets into a wooden box emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes.
When Blavatt announced the winner, the theater erupted with cheers.
"You have an awesome responsibility," Blavatt told Selby.
She can handle it, said Alyssa Bohnsack, a 13-year-old eighth-grader who served as a delegate for Powell Middle School. Selby was impressive at the nominating convention, and her efforts to get to every school helped, too, Bohnsack said.
Hernando is among just a few districts in the state that have a student representative on the board. The election process wasn't purely democratic this year because the four nominees were not voted on by the student bodies at their respective high schools. Instead, they were selected from administrators' recommendations. That's because the School Board didn't approve the representative seat until the summer, Blavatt said.
Next year, the countywide election will be held in the spring, and each school may hold elections prior to that to select their nominee, Blavatt said.
Selby credited the help of her fellow Springstead delegates — Will Allen, Sean Chapman and Emily Gustafson — who doubled as campaign staff, visiting schools and creating campaign fliers, stickers, even a video.
Her first meeting will likely be Tuesday. She will have a small dais of her own, just to the right of where the board members sit.
"I know I'm going to be nervous, but I'm going to keep my composure and do what I need to do for the students of Hernando County," she said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.