Jared Leonard ’22
The role of students in the education system is an age-old debate as to how much of a say they deserve in the decision-making process at their academic institutions. As a student myself, I understand the unique perspective that the student body can offer to the district. While the Westport Public School District has made recent strides to increase student involvement, this relationship is far from where it should be.
At the end of the first marking period, the Westport Public School District sent out a survey to all Staples High School students. Questions in the survey covered topics such as student and teacher relationships, how comfortable students feel at Staples and how well of a job teachers do at fostering an effective learning environment.
While I appreciate the in-depth quality of the questions and openness to constructive criticism, I am hesitant to believe how impactful this survey really is. In past years, I have filled out similar surveys with ideas for a more inclusive school environment. However, I have yet to see any steps taken by the district to even consider these ideas.
As someone who strongly believes that the amount of student input the district allows is sorely lacking, I cannot help but wonder if this survey is merely a way to make students feel like their ideas are being considered, when in reality, no real change is being made.
During my academic career in the Westport Public School District, I have often felt that administrators and officials within the district dismiss the ideas of students. And because of this, there is no doubt in my mind that many students chose to simply disregard the survey without even bothering to fill it out.
Staples High School and the Westport Public School District need to realize the potential that collaboration with students has in creating a healthy environment as a way to gain insight into the problems facing our schools and how to best address them. The best way to achieve this goal is by implementing a student representative on the Westport Board of Education.
The National School Boards Association conducted a survey in 2020 that concluded that 25 states currently have local school boards with student representatives. This survey further found that the state of Connecticut leaves the decision to allow students to serve on local school boards up to local opinion. While this is a very big change, try to understand the unique perspective that students can provide on issues such as curriculum changes, graduation requirements and the allocation of funding.
If the Westport Board of Education is open to it, there are numerous ways to approach the selection of student representatives. In Maryland, Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County use different methods that have been effective and efficient. The process in Montgomery County is done through a direct election, while Anne Arundel County uses an Electoral College-like process. While the idea of student representation on the Westport Board of Education is something that has never been seriously considered, we can look to successful examples like these as guidance as we too transition towards more student representation.
The issue of student representation should not be a matter of if, but a matter of when. Students have the necessary knowledge to play a role in the issues that directly affect us the most. Administrators and district officials alike should jump at the opportunity to improve their policies and in turn, improve the Westport Public School District. As the number one public high school in the state of Connecticut, Staples has the responsibility to be leaders and pave the way for innovation within our education system, and we can start here.