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Letting Students Have a Say in School Policies and Practices Contributes to Heightened Engagement, Contend Panel of Superintendents

Three superintendent panelists talked about how student voice in school districts is almost invisible, yet it should be present everywhere.

Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of North Shore School District 112, Highland Park, Ill., was the main panelist of the student voice session on Thursday morning at the AASA National Conference on Education.

Lubelfeld is passionate about student voice. He exclaimed that students should be passionate about school. When students young or old do not enjoy school, he believes giving them voice on their studies can change that.

“You should have a five-year-old running to school. You should have an 11th grader run to school too,” said Lubelfeld.

Lubelfeld said that most likely the absence of voice is why schools have less engagement among students.

He noted that the hard part about executing student voice is that the teachers and other leaders must give students permission to share their opinions.

Fellow panelist PJ Caposey, superintendent of Meridian Community Unit School District 223, Stillman Valley, Ill., noted the only thing that prevents schools from engaging with kids is simply not asking them.

Caposey said putting effort into creating student voice creates fear among educators, including superintendents. 

Many times, Caposey said he has regretted making important decisions without consulting students out of his own fears.  

He challenges all superintendents to figure out what that fear is and fight for what is right when it would benefit their students.

Nick Polyak, superintendent of Leyden School District 212, Franklin Park, Ill., had much to say on giving students greater say in their learning.

“Let’s put our money where our mouth is,” said Polyak.

Polyak’s two high schools elect student members to the board of education. They sit with the other board members at meetings, receive the same information and attend the professional statewide conferences.

Polyak disclosed the most powerful moment the Leyden School District has had with student engagement is when students become involved with getting rid of class ranks and valedictorians. The students said their classmates do not take the classes they want to take. Instead, they take the ones they know will give them the higher GPA.

“There are kids in our schools not accessing our career pathways because of the system [where] we have to rank and sort our kids,” said Polyak.

Similarly, Caposey said that if school boards sincerely believe that students have a voice in their own education, there is nothing more powerful than bringing them along with board meetings and discussions.

“We need to unlearn some of our old realities to make room for the world of today and the world of tomorrow” said Polyak.

(Selah Oden is a reporting intern with Conference Daily Online and a junior at Martin Luther King High School in Nashville, Tenn.)

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