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Pasco teen spoke up to the school superintendent, and it made a difference

Sunlake High junior Alexandra Campbell’s email prompts a rule change even her principal couldn’t win.

LAND O’LAKES -- This is the story of a 17-year-old girl who fired off an email to school district headquarters and the 60-year-old superintendent who actually read it.

For as long as anyone can remember, Pasco County’s Sunlake High School has offered a seventh-period lunch.

Seniors with good enough grades and attendance could apply to take courses during periods one through six, and then go home for the seventh. The students benefited with extra time for homework, or just hanging out, while the cramped school eased its cafeteria crunch to the tune of nearly 250 teens.

Then without much explanation, district level administrators nixed the school’s permission to continue what had become viewed as a senior tradition that principal Mike Cloyd had every intention of keeping in place.

Cloyd informed Class of 2020 leaders. And Alexandra Campbell, who serves in student government and plays volleyball among her many activities, decided to take matters into her own hands.

Campbell, 17, shot off an email to superintendent Kurt Browning explaining her disappointment with the move, and offering some rationale for reconsideration. Among those, she cited positive student morale of retaining the incentive, and the possible negative consequence of teens enrolling in virtual courses to leave anyway, taking some state funding with them.

“What’s the worst thing they can do? Say no?” Campbell said. “I think it’s important to say what you want to say, because you don’t get every opportunity to do so.”

She acknowledged that Browning, who gets dozens of emails daily from across the 75,000-student, 10,000-employee school system, easily could have dismissed her concern as too minor to matter.

But he didn’t do so.

Instead, Browning asked for details from Cloyd, who explained that Browning’s team directed the school to end the student privilege, in part because the students were not actually eating during the seventh period “lunch.” Browning then sent the information to his assistant superintendents for additional review.

Betsy Kuhn, who oversees district operations, said part of the issue centered on the way in which such school-based requests get assessed, to ensure they are treated similarly. She and Monica Ilse, who oversees high schools, found that other high schools, including River Ridge, had won permission to do the same thing, with still others asking to do so beginning in the fall.

“It was just a misunderstanding,” Kuhn said.

She and Ilse advised Browning to allow Sunlake to keep seventh-period lunch for another year, giving the district team time to look at how the idea works across all schools that use it. That includes consideration of how the policy affects cafeteria sales, among other issues.

Campbell got the news in a brief email from the superintendent. To say she was surprised would be an understatement.

“It was very inspiring because it’s such a busy district, and they have many more things to do,” she said. “That they actually did consider it and went through it, they didn’t say no and they talked about it, it’s very reassuring.”

Word spread quickly among Sunlake seniors.

“Everyone is super excited,” Campbell said. “People I’ve never met before came up and said, ‘Thank you.’ It was just one email. I didn’t know if it would make a difference. But every little thing helps.”

Cloyd shared the enthusiasm.

“Kids can make a difference,” he said. “She won a fight I had lost.”