WESLEY CHAPEL — It's 6:50 a.m. Wednesday morning, and Wesley Chapel High senior Kevin Mangal is sitting in the principal's conference room sipping orange juice from a plastic foam cup.
All around Mangal, adults chat about a recent Tim McGraw concert, last night's outing to Beef O'Brady's, coming weekend plans to relax at Anna Maria Island. He silently scribbles on the papers before him, occasionally pausing to greet people as they enter.
After 10 minutes, Mangal seizes upon a lull in the conversation.
"Good morning," he says in the cheerful baritone that has over four years become known as the Voice of Wesley Chapel High. "I'm going to call this meeting to order."
The gathered teachers, administrators, parents and business representatives who make up the school's advisory council quickly heed their chairman and turn their attention to the agenda at hand. This month, it includes a proposal to fund materials for a ninth-grade academy, updates on high school testing rules, and an overview of the state's new high school grading system.
Much of the heavy lifting falls to principal Carin Nettles, who brings loads of information from the state and district to share. But Mangal keeps the meeting flowing steadily, ensuring everyone has a chance to ask questions and making sure the session doesn't run long.
It's a position he enjoys — and one that many students can't claim to have held. For although Florida law requires high schools to include students on their advisory councils, Wesley Chapel is one of very few to have a student as chairman.
"Every year we elect a student to give that student a leadership position he wouldn't otherwise have," Nettles said. "It gives them an inside view of how to work with students and adults alike."
And there's no more deserving student at Wesley Chapel than Mangal, said SAC member and English teacher Lori Savoy.
"He fits the role very well," said Savoy, who has taught Mangal in a few different classes. "He is probably the most respected student in the school. Nobody would have any qualms about him being in charge of anything at this school."
In addition to his role with the advisory council, Mangal has served as his class president every year in high school. This year, he's student body president.
His voice, meanwhile, is practically ubiquitous on campus, where he helps with the televised morning news, announces athletics events and enthusiastically leads the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom each morning.
Mangal, who will graduate in June in the top 5 percent of his class, said he enjoys being involved in the many different aspects of his school.
"I'm a people person," the 18-year-old aspiring politician said. "I like to represent them, I really like to interact with people and propose ideas to the administration to see what I can get done. … I'm one of the fortunate students who gets to see how things get done at our school."
The SAC made progress this year fixing up the gym and updating the school logo, he said, while also providing support for new academic initiatives such as a ninth-grade academy, which debuts in the fall.
"That really improves our school atmosphere," Mangal said.
Sophomore Savannah Ferguson, who also sits on the SAC as the recording secretary, applauded the administration's willingness to give students a true voice in such important matters as school improvement. It would be easy, she said, for a school to put students on the committee and then marginalize them.
"I think it helps out a lot," said Ferguson, 16. "If it was just a team of adults, the students wouldn't feel like we have a say. If I'm going to attend a school, I'm going to want to voice my opinions."
She might be in line to take the chairmanship next year.
Jeff Novotny of American Consulting Engineers, a four-year SAC member, had high praise for giving the chairmanship to a student. It helps that student gain valuable leadership and communication skills, as well as connecting them more closely to the school.
The adults have no trouble dealing with a teen chairman, he added: "They gain immediate respect by the adults that are here."
Mangal said he expects his experience to help him as he looks to enter politics after finishing his degrees, first at Hillsborough Community College and then the University of South Florida. He also acknowledged that his involvement has connected him to his soon-to-be alma mater in a special way.
So much so, in fact, that he stands ready to attend an SAC meeting after graduation, if needed.
"I'll still be here," Mangal said. "I'll still be part of the school."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.