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Systemwide Agency Can Be Used to Amplify Student Agency

How does student agency relate to college and career readiness?

Michelle Whitney, superintendent of Pasco School District 1 in Washington, and Robi Cole, AVID associate area director for the Pacific Northwest, engaged participants at an AASA conference roundtable Friday morning with examples of the impact of their student agency work. They repeatedly noted their work required the ability to build trust and inspire others, relating it to Stephen Covey’s keynote messages from earlier in the day.

“We’re not building agency if we don’t trust and inspire,” Whitney said. She supports and communicates with the three students who serve on her board of education and student advisory councils. One of her system’s goals is to ensure that all principals have a student advisory council.

Communication loops are key. Whitney brings the recommendations of the student board representatives and advisory councils to the school board, noting success in their influencing decisions. She then brings that information back to the students so they can see their voices can change outcomes. She also asks the students if they are seeing changes based on those decisions.

Whitney shared that ”student agency can’t exist in isolation from the broader system. It’s a superintendent’s responsibility to move beyond compliance and accountability to possibility for all students.” She does this by empowering the people closest to kids. Her goal is to build agency from the system level down to all other levels, with systems in place to support them.

Their school system incorporates AVID’s College and Career Readiness Framework in their five strategic priorities. AVID’s framework includes student agency, rigorous academic preparedness and knowledge of opportunities so that students can better set goals, make choices and navigate transitions.

AVID, a national organization that provides professional development and resources to schools and school systems, describes agency as students believing in themselves, acting intentionally, persisting through obstacles and activating their academic, social, emotional and professional knowledge and skills to reach their potential.

(Rebecca Salon is a reporter for Conference Daily Online and a disability policy consultant in Washington, D.C.)

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