Student Leaders Wanted, Fast

by Jeff Camp | September 13, 2018 | 1 Comment
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Student Leaders Wanted, Fast!

A deadline is fast approaching that ambitious high school juniors need to know about: the application date for the student member position on the California State Board of Education. Representing 6.2 million students, this is the most powerful role that a high school student can play in California government. It's not an advisory position — it's a full seat at the table in the room where it happens.

Please forward this message to student councils, civics teachers, and high school counselors. There's not much time.

The current student member of the California State Board of Education is Gema Q. Cardenas, who attends high school at the Life Academy of Health and Bioscience in Oakland. You can read more about her on EdSource and OaklandNorth.

Apply now to represent 6.2 million students. Your printed application must be received by October 11.

My own involvement in California's education system began decades ago as a candidate for this position. In 1983, the year that A Nation At Risk was published, I traveled to Sacramento to attend the Student Advisory Board of Education (SABE), a conference where students discussed real issues facing the real California State Board of Education. We met policy makers, learned from researchers and, not insignificantly, connected with each other. The finale of the conference was an opportunity to present our insights and recommendations to members of the State Board of Education. At the time, the hot topics were school funding, standardized testing and the value of student participation in school boards. (Yes, change takes time.)

In the end I was not appointed to the board position, but I learned a lot in the application process, and I remain engaged in California education policy to this day. I created because I believe the state needs an easy, fair way for anyone — including students — to understand how the school system works so they can participate in making it work better.

How to Apply

To be eligible, you need to be an 11th grade student enrolled in a California public school (traditional or charter).

To be a contender, you should start preparing right now. Complete the application. Print it and send it in via old fashioned mail, with paper and stamps. It must be received by October 11, 2018, so you should drop it in the mail by about October 8 to allow time for delays. The address is on the bottom of page 4 of the application.

The application is a lot of work, and not only for you: your application needs to include three letters of recommendation, and you need to leave time for people to write them, print them and give them to you to include in the envelope. (Yes, it's different from college applications.) Again: start now.

How to Prepare

This is an important job, and you should know something about it to apply. There isn't much time, so some speed-reading is in order. The lessons on are the fastest way to learn about the education system, broadly and quickly, so sign up and gun through them. Earn your certificate as an Ed100 graduate and remember to include it on your resume., the state's de facto news source of record for education, can give you a deeper understanding of issues that are currently abuzz.

You should plan to attend the SABE conference November 5-8 in Sacramento. (Yes, this is the same conference that got me started all those years ago.) If you advance to the next step as a candidate for the position you'll be required to attend this conference and the State Board will cover your costs. Even if you don't advance as a candidate, you'll find the conference inspiring and informative.

And of course you should examine the website of the State Board of Education. Watch some video footage of the meetings, so you know what you're signing up for if you get the position. Spoiler alert: it's not thrilling stuff to watch. Refer to the agenda to pick the parts that interest you. Browse the meeting materials; members of the Board have a lot of homework for each meeting.

Join Your School Board

The student position on the State Board of Education is not the only authentic opportunity for high school students to become deeply involved in education leadership. As of January 1, 2018, California law requires school districts to include a student member on their board, if petitioned by enough students. Before you start a petition for your district, do your homework. You will want to make sure the measure is well-crafted. For example, the student representative will need to have access to the meetings and documents necessary to participate successfully.

Los Angeles Unified has already created a student position. Some other districts have tried to engage students in other ways. For example, San Francisco Unified has opted for a student advisory council, as has Fresno. There is no known summary of how students are represented in each California school district; if you want to document yours please consider adding information to this list. (Want to take over development of this list as a leadership project? Just ask!)

Regional conferences for student members of district and county school boards are held at the beginning of the school year in some places. There are still seats available in some of them, if you act quickly.

More Ways to Lead

In addition to the SABE conference (held in early November), you might want to attend SABLE, a legislative conference for student leaders held in Sacramento in January. This conference builds on the work begun at the SABE conference, but it focuses on the legislative process. These conferences are a fascinating way to learn about real government at an entirely different level. Though targeted at juniors and seniors, precocious sophomores who attend these conferences emerge with ideas and connections that prepare them to have an impact far beyond their own school.

School site councils are an important part of local school governance, and these are meant to include student members. Ask your principal.

Many PTA organizations are actually PTSAs — the "S" stands for "Students". These organizations create opportunities for student leadership and governance at the school site level and beyond. The California State PTA Board of Managers is an example of a PTA organization that involves students in its governance.

CASC and CASL are two organizations that organize student leadership training programs and events including summer leadership programs. Other youth organizations that support student involvement in civics include YMCA and Junior State.

Determination Required

It can be challenging for students to get involved in real government for a simple reason: real work happens on school days and during school hours. Education-related conferences, events and meetings fit well within the state guidelines for an excusable absence, but you'll need to make up the school work you miss and you need to obtain permission to miss school. Be aware that your school's reflexive answer when you ask for an excused absence may be to say "no". There are many reasons, including a financial one: when you miss a day of school, even with permission, your school district foregoes about $75 in funding.

Know of any other real government roles for high school students? Let us know by adding a comment to this post!

Please help spread the word quickly about the student position on the State Board. There isn't much time, and California's students deserve great representation.

— Jeff

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Jeff Camp September 14, 2018 at 12:59 pm
Useful operational details about SB486 from
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