In Hartford, New Senate To Represent Students On School Board
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
November 15, 2012
HARTFORD —— Delegates to the city's new Student Senate convened for the first time this week under a portrait of George Washington and with direct orders from the superintedent to represent the voices of thousands of students across Hartford.
City neighborhood and magnet high schools each sent two delegates to Hartford Public High School on Wednesday night. They will meet about once a month, often with Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, in part to discuss policy issues that Kishimoto said have been missing a youth perspective.
The 24-member group will also select two delegates who will sit on the Hartford Board of Education as nonvoting members for the rest of the year, joining towns such as West Hartford, Simsbury and Avon with student representatives on the school board.
"Student voice is extremely important," Kishimoto told them, "and it's going to be your job as students to make sure that if — or if and when — there will be leadership changes at the board, with the superintendent or the principal... that there will still be a student voice."
Many of the students appeared shy as Kishimoto asked them a few questions: Do the delegates know the two primary roles of the school board? One is setting policy; what is the other?
"Fiduciary responsibility... Write it down," Kishimoto instructed. "F-i-d-u-c-i-a-r-y. Fiduciary responsibility. It's a good term to know."
Delegates will receive leadership training in December and hold an election for the senate's officers and school board representatives. All delegates are scheduled to meet with the board for a forum in the spring.
Those in the Student Senate include a brother-sister duo from the Hartford Journalism and Media Academy at Weaver, and Manchester and East Hartford residents who attend the Great Path Academy Middle College High School, a Hartford magnet school at Manchester Community College.
Earlier, several of the students said a principal or other school staffer chose them to be on the senate, and that they had no pressing issues they felt needed to be taken up as a cause, at least for now.
But Tiffany Mitchell, a senior at Hartford Public's Law and Government Academy, said she actively volunteered to be a delegate.
"I made it clear that I wanted to be a part of it," said Mitchell, 17, who might major in pre-law or psychology in college. "I believe in representing Hartford schools and I believe that it can be improved in a lot of ways."
Mitchell suggested more teacher training and a way for students to evaluate staff and the school environment that goes beyond an annual survey.
Previously, Hartford's Junior City Council, established in 1949, gave elected high school students a leadership platform to recommend action to the city council and school officials on issues such as suspension policies, the dress code and music programs. That group, which successfully lobbied for after-school driver education, was disbanded in the early '70s.
These days, few students are seen at school board meetings unless a specific program is threatened. Mitchell was one of the few delegates who raised a hand when Kishimoto asked if any of them had been to a board meeting or viewed one on TV.
In December, with Kishimoto's support, the board revised one of its policies to require that each high school develop a student council. The policy then outlined the Student Senate and the duties for future student representatives on the board.
The Student Senate's advisor, Kally Moquete, a program assistant at Hartford Public, informed the teenagers that they must be earnest and dedicated.
"You're committing to come to every meeting... to come together to fight for a greater cause," Moquete said Wednesday.
"You should be pushing yourselves in your thinking about what you want to see in your district," Kishimoto said. She discouraged them from focusing on "small" problems that a school principal could handle administratively.
"We're going to be talking about some of the big issues."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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