Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Student Advisory Council

Law of Leadership: A successful team with 100 members has 100 leaders.
-Lance Secretan

Students are the largest stakeholder group a school has, but they are often overlooked source of information, energy and momentum for improvement efforts.

esasd I was intrigued when I heard East Stroudsburg Area School District (ESASD) had a Student Advisory Council in each high school that the superintendent and high school principal met with personally 3 - 4 times a year. Dr. Rachael Heath, Superintendent of ESASD, started the Advisory group when she came to the district four years ago. She is expanding the council to both intermediate schools this year and I can see why!

Here's a summary of the meeting to give you a flavor of student interests and insights:

A diverse mix of 20-25 students assembled in the school library. They opened the meeting with Old Business..... School Safety, Bathrooms, buses and the Cafeteria. The first two items were quick. Students indicated they felt safe and the bathrooms were clean. However the cafeteria and the buses brought lots of discussion.

It was apparent that both Dr. Heath and principal, Stephen Zall, took the meeting seriously and were open to student comments and concerns. Their manner was genuine... asking follow up questions for clarification. It was also transparent...."that shouldn't happen," "that is not acceptable," or "we will look into that." At one point, Dr. Heath said in response to a student compliant about a consistently late bus, "I apologize, that shouldn't happen." Dr. Heath later said it is not easy to hear some of the comments that students make, but it is an opportunity to hear what their experiences are really like in school.

The conversation then turned toward dress code. It was interesting that about half of the students were in favor of a more formal dress code. Most volunteered to be a committee to look more closely at the dress code, including visiting other schools to investigate the issue thoroughly.

The tail end of the conversation turned toward academics. It was interesting to see students asking for more rigorous courses and wanting information on the Science PSSA. It appeared that all academic levels of students were concerned about the quality of instruction.

Throughout the dialogue the students participated in the meeting appropriately. They supported their concerns with examples and often made suggests for resolution. They asked questions and were respectful of the boundaries set by the administrators.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Heath will summarize the input from students and forward the minutes to the appropriate personnel including building principal, transportation director, food service coordinator etc.... The administrators then report back to Dr. Heath regarding their efforts to address student concerns. At the next council meeting, Dr. Heath will revisit the concerns to determine whether progress has been made in target areas from the perspective of the students.

Recommendations for Establishing a Student Advisory Council:

1. Commit to having a cross representation of 20-25 students to participate. Represent students from:

  • All grade levels
  • All racial and ethnic groups
  • All socio-economic status
  • All academic Performance levels
  • All career Orientation (Traditional Vs. Career & Technical Students)

2. Have a pre-meeting with students to clarify the goals and expectations for the council.

3. Listen with a genuine heart.

  • Be prepared to hear good and bad news.
  • Make no excuses or judgments.
  • Don't be defensive.

4. Respect what students are saying. Their concerns are very real to them.

5. Make the council environment welcoming.

  • Provide name tags
  • Provide snacks

6. Follow up with student concerns and report progress

Resources for Building Student Leadership Capacity:

Holcomb, E. (2007). Students are stakeholders, too. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Lambert, L. (2003). Leadership capacity for lasting school improvement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum Development.

3 comments:

lsmith said...

What a great idea! I was in school at the time of the Columbine tragedy and remember meeting with school administrators regarding concerns of student safety. It was a great feeling to be able to give voice to the concerns that we were all discussing in the halls and around lunch tables during such a scary time. I only wish that they had continued the trend of holding such meetings as a forum to address student concerns and not only holding such meetings when it was a necessity.

How can we reach students without understanding what is important to them and what makes them comfortable in the education environment?

bozabooza said...

I am an elementary teacher. This would be great for administration to do at ALL levels.

Pat said...

I followed Dr. Heath's lead. Students really do have the best view of what is happening in their schools. The real value of Dr. Heath's approach that must be followed regardless of the level is the follow-up to the student concerns. That is the value to the students, they know that their voices are heard and the concerns are taken seriously. The value of the East Stroudsburg model is that this type of meeting has occured regularly for at least 4 years - non stop - as lsmith said, we need to adress student concerns all the time, not just when a tradgedy occurs.