Empowering Student Voice in Policy Development and Discussions

By Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

Our education system is more student-centered and student-driven than ever before. This means that policymakers and decision-makers must ensure student voice is elevated and actively heard.

Watch: Empowering the Student Voice

Since 2006, the D.C. State Board of Education has appointed two students to serve as representatives on the State Board. The student representatives are high school students in the District’s traditional public or public charter schools, and they each serve one-year terms. Each student representative is selected from a pool of applicants by the elected members of the State Board. They participate in all meetings and committees of the State Board by providing policy recommendations and testimony, and they co-lead the drafting of written reports; their votes are always recorded, but do not affect the outcome of a State Board action.

My colleagues and I had the opportunity to share the work of our impressive student representatives and the power of student voice and representation while at the 2019 iNACOL Symposium in Palm Springs, California. We led a session titled, “Empowering Student Voice in Policy Development and Discussions”  which featured a virtual panel of three former student representatives—Brian Contreras, Tallya Rhodes, and Tatiana Robinson. They discussed the role of the State Board’s student representatives, the leadership they provided as co-chairs of the District’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC), and the policy-facing work they accomplished on college readiness, teacher retention, and school equity.

Brian Contreras, SY14–15 and SY15–16 Student Representative and current senior at Stanford University, shared one of his favorite memories from his time on the State Board.

My favorite State Board memory is from the first meeting of the inaugural Student Advisory Committee (SAC). All the student members brought three topics they were interested in using the SAC to address and we discussed the merits of each one in depth, ultimately settling on teacher accountability.

 It was the first real forum I had seen for students from all different schools—traditional public and public charter—to explore all the issues they had with their education and then reaching a consensus.

 I would definitely consider my work on the SAC as my biggest impact as a student representative. Looking over the current SAC webpage now, I would bet that every issue that has been addressed in the years since the SAC’s inaugural year was raised at that first meeting, which I think illustrates the persistence of these issues and the importance of having a standing, student-led committee exploring them.”

The State Board continues to be impressed by the work and leadership of our student representatives and the SAC. The SAC meets on the first Monday of every month at 4:30 p.m. at 441 4thStreet NW.

Elevating the Hidden Voices of a Community: Equity and Authentic Stakeholder Engagement

By Matt Repka, Policy Analyst

In late October, the State Board attended the iNACOL Symposium in Palm Springs, California.

iNACOL, short for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, is a D.C.-area organization that advocates for online, competency-based, and personalized learning opportunities for students. Since 2017, the organization has expanded to focus more broadly on personalized learning and promote policies that advance student-centered experiences.

On the first day, we attended pre-conference workshops, an opening keynote, and a surprise: iNACOL itself would be undergoing a surprise rebrand—effective immediately. Now known as the Aurora Institute, the organization formerly known as iNACOL would continue to focus on innovation and the transformation of education systems, but under a new banner that reflects its expanded, not-just-online-learning focus.

Over the next two days, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to sit in on keynote addresses, conference breakout sessions, and workshops with incredible people from all over the country (and beyond). But we were also there to lead two sessions of our own: one workshop on empowering student voice in policy discussions led by SBOE policy analyst Alex Jue and one on stakeholder engagement in education and the work of the State Board’s task forces.

In “Elevating the Hidden Voices of a Community: Equity and Authentic Stakeholder Engagement,” we had the opportunity to break down some of the work the State Board has accomplished in the District over the past two years with respect to community voice and stakeholder engagement around state-level education policy.

State Board members presenting to small group at Aurora Symposium

In a role-playing exercise, we assigned titles and schools to each of our attendees and asked them to consider the ramifications of a new school rating systems, the changes they would like to see implemented in their schools, and the barriers they might face. We ended the presentation with a discussion of the real work that the State Board has done on high school graduation requirements and implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, bringing community voices into the discussion and working closely with state and local-level education officials to ensure residents are included in the policymaking process.

All of us at SBOE are proud of the work we’ve been able to do on behalf of District residents over the past few years, and I’m thankful that we were given the opportunity to share it with educators and policymakers from all over the country last month. I hope to have the chance to return next year, when the Aurora Institute Symposium will take place in San Antonio, Texas.