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Buncombe County (N.C.) School Board Campaign Speeches

Written by Adam King Apr 29, 2011

These speeches were delivered between April 3 and August 3, 2006, in an effort to add a student adviser to the Buncombe County Board of Education.

Buncombe County Board of Education – April 3, 2006

Dear School Board Members:

As a student, I believe that it is necessary for the Buncombe County Board of Education to implement the idea of creating a non-voting seat on the school board for one student selected from the district to serve as a student advisor.

I feel that it is necessary for students to have representation in the decisions that affect their education. Students will feel like they are an integral part of making these decisions. By giving a qualified student a non-voting position on the board, youth will be empowered with direct representation and provided an opportunity to experience actual, legal policymaking first-hand. Their knowledge of the local government would also be greatly enhanced.

By creating a direct dialogue between the student body of Buncombe County and the school board parents and students will be better informed of important school policy decisions; the school administration will have a source of regular comprehensive feedback from the students affected by their policies; and a spirit of self-education on the behalf of students would be immediately fostered. A non-voting position on the school board would allow students to learn the process that goes into improving education, thus encouraging further interaction between the community and the school board.

I strongly encourage you to consider this proposal as it directly benefits the school board, school administration, teachers, parents, and students. Thank you for you consideration.

Student Advisor Position

REASONS FOR POSITION

–Students will be empowered with direct representation.
–Students will be provided an opportunity to experience actual, legal policymaking firsthand.
–Students will have an increased knowledge of local government systems.
–It teaches students that local government is often the level that has the most impact on daily lives.
–Students will learn the process that goes into improving education, thus encouraging further interaction between the community and the school board.
–By creating a direct dialogue between the student body of Buncombe County and the school board, parents and students will be better informed of important school policy decisions.
–School administrators will have a source of regular comprehensive feedback from the students affected by their policies.
–School board members are not as involved in all of the issues that face students every day, unlike students who sit in class for nearly 8 hours a day.
–Students often feel more comfortable sharing personal information with other students than with adults they may not know.
–There are countless school boards across the nation that have student advisors. For example, the Washington, D.C., school board has a student advisor.

POSSIBLE SELECTION PROCESS

The Board of Education would be ultimately responsible for deciding how a student is selected. A possible selection method, however, is to make the project a coordinated effort among all 6 high school student councils. The president or other appointed delegate from each student council would sit on a student advisory panel. This student panel would then elect one person to be the district’s student advisor. The advisor would attend the school board meetings and voice his or her opinions and the opinions of the student advisory panel. He or she would proceed to report to the student panel after the meeting.

POSSIBLE RESPONSIBILITIES

–The student advisor panel could meet together before a school board meeting. The person who was chosen as the student advisor would gather ideas and feedback from the delegates concerning agenda items. He or she would then present these opinions to the school board.
–After the school board meeting, the chosen student advisor would either have another meeting or contact all of the delegates by some means of communication.
–Be a liaison between the school board and the student councils of the high schools in Buncombe County.
–Represent the delegates of the 6 high school student councils and his or her peers, just as a school board member would represent his constituents.
–Other duties that the school board deems appropriate for the student advisor to carry out.

Thank you.

Buncombe County Board of Education – May 3, 2006

Mr. Chairman, members of the Buncombe County Board of Education:

Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to speak again at today’s meeting. I spoke at the last regular board meeting on April 3, 2006. At that meeting, the chair commended me for my activism and involvement with my project to add a student advisor to the school board, but I was told to take my proposal to the state.

On April 7, I spoke with the North Carolina State Board of Education’s Assistant Executive Director and Harry Wilson, the State Board’s Legal Advisor. Both informed me that local boards have the power to add a student advisor without any action needed from the state government. In fact, the State Board of Education itself has had student advisory members since 1986. Mr. Wilson told me that he would be happy to talk with you about this if you still have any questions concerning legality. If you do not have his number, I will be happy to give it to you.

I requested feedback from members of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, the Asheville City Council, and area members of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Brownie Newman, City Councilor; Bill Stanley, County Commissioner; Representative Susan Fisher, and Representative Wilma Sherrill, have offered positive feedback. Wilma Sherrill said, “The UNC Board of Governors have a student advisor and I think the dialogue between student and board members is good… I see no problem in local boards choosing to allow such a member… The more communication we have between students and board members then the better understanding we have in recognizing the needs in our school system.”

Since the announcement of my idea in the news media in February, I have encountered an enormous amount of support. In an editorial in the Asheville Citizen-Times on April 11, the editorial board wrote, “If board members are unsure how having a student be part of their deliberations would work, they could begin by doing it on a trial basis… Students are school boards’ most important constituency and it seems reasonable that students should have an opportunity to contribute their views about issues that affect them… We say, more power to him.”

Since I appeared in the news media, people who I have not met before have been coming up to me and commending me for having “a great idea.” They support adding a student advisor on the school board.

I am still awaiting feedback from the other high schools, but from A.C. Reynolds High School, I have the written support of 60 faculty members, including the school’s principal, Dr. Regina Lambert, and three other administrators, four counselors, 52 teachers, and counting.

The student advisor would not have a vote, and he or she would not be involved in closed sessions that deal with individual students or personnel matters. Although schools have school advisory committees, having a student advisor on the board would expedite the process of speaking on issues that affect students, and it would provide someone who could channel student opinion.

I encourage you to review the documents I have submitted along with my presentation. If you have any questions or comments, I would be happy to answer them.

Thank you.

Buncombe County Board of Education – June 1, 2006

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Superintendent, members of the Buncombe County Board of Education:

Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to speak at today’s meeting. I have spoken at the last two regular board meetings about adding a student advisor to the school board, and at this meeting, I will address concerns that some board members brought up at the last meeting.

At the last meeting, two board members said they wanted a guarantee that the student advisor on the school board would contribute to each meeting.

On Friday, May 12, I called Betsy West, the Assistant Executive Director to the North Carolina State Board of Education. The state board of education has two student advisors who attend board meetings every month. Ms. West said that the student advisors are sent materials before each board meeting, just like every other board member. The students are expected to have read the materials and be prepared to discuss issues that affect students across the state. Board members will usually ask how the advisors feel about certain issues affecting students.

The board can also assign the student advisors to work on special projects. For example, after the ratification of the No Child Left Behind Act, the state had to come up with names to distinguish different achievement levels of schools. They delegated this project to the students who helped come up with the names used today.

Ms. West believes that having student advisors on the board is highly successful and important. She said by phone, “Sometimes the students will have something to say that the board had not uncovered. The student perspective as a direct customer will obviously be a bit different from the provider… It gives the board members the student perspective and allows them to weigh all opinions.”

Each of the six Buncombe County high schools could possibly select one delegate from its student council. The six delegates would make up the student advisory panel, providing equal representation to all six high schools. The panel would then nominate one member to the position of student advisor for a one-year term.

The panel would discuss issues that are affecting students at their respective schools and report to the student advisor, who would serve as the chair of the panel.

The student advisor would have the same responsibility as elected adult board members to be prepared before meetings and able to speak on issues affecting students. The student advisor could also deliver a report during the meeting just as the superintendent does.

I want to reiterate that my proposal has the unanimous support of my school’s student council, 60 faculty members, and the Asheville Citizen-Times. Six politicians at both the local and state levels have also offered encouragement.

The limited student representation on local school advisory councils is far removed from the workings of the Buncombe County School Board. Local advisory councils rightly focus on the needs at their individual schools, which do not always represent the needs of the entire county. A student advisor, working with student representatives from all six high schools, would be better able to articulate the interests of all students directly to the board without having that information filtered through several layers of bureaucracy or limited to a five-minute public comment statement.

Perhaps a compromise solution is to adopt the proposal on a trial basis for one year. If board members find the addition of a student advisor as beneficial as the North Carolina State Board of Education finds its two student representatives, then the position could become a permanent one.

If, however, the student advisor proves ineffective, then the position would lapse at the end of the trial period.

The school board has an unelected legal advisor who provides his perspective of the law. It is time for the board to include a student advisor to provide a perspective of the nearly 26,000 students who are affected every day by the decisions the school board makes. It is time to give this proposal a try.

If you have any comments or questions, I will address them at this time.

Thank you.

Press Conference – July 20, 2007

Good afternoon and welcome! My name is Adam King, and I am a sophomore at Reynolds High School. Additionally, I am a member and supervisor of chapter formation for the National Youth Rights Association, a national nonprofit organization.

In February, I decided on my own initiative to try to increase student representation for the students who reside in the county school system. I have worked for countless hours trying to convince the members of the Buncombe County Board of Education to add a student adviser onto the school board; however, my proposal has fallen onto deaf ears.

The first of many tribulations was my first appearance on WLOS. By contacting the media without going through “the proper channels,” some members of the board were reportedly furious that they had been caught off-guard. I was prepared to speak at the March 2 meeting, however, my school’s principal advised me to wait since the superintendent did not have enough time to review the materials I submitted to the board.

On April 3, I presented my proposal and outlined a possible selection process of the student adviser: Each of the six Buncombe County high schools could select one delegate from its student council. The six delegates would make up the student advisory panel, providing equal representation to all six high schools. The panel would then nominate one member to the position of student adviser on the Buncombe Board of Education for a one-year term.

I clarified to the board that the student adviser seat would be a non-voting position, serving only in an advisory capacity. The student would not be involved in closed sessions such as student and personnel hearings. The chair of the board commended me for my activism, but he told me that I needed to contact state representatives because having a student adviser on a local board is a state issue.

I questioned the legitimacy of that suggestion and contacted Harry Wilson, the North Carolina State Board of Education’s legal adviser. He confirmed my initial thoughts: this is definitely a local issue. He informed me that the N.C. Board itself has had two student advisers since 1986. In the time that passed until the next meeting, I gained signatures from 60 faculty members from Reynolds High who support having a student adviser seat on the school board without any hesitation. I also gained the encouragement and/or support from people such as Robin Cape of the Asheville City Council, David Gantt of the Buncombe County Commissioners, and the honorable Susan Fisher and Wilma Sherrill.

Perhaps most compelling, my proposal gained the support of the Asheville Citizen-Times in an editorial written on April 11. In part, they wrote, “Students are school boards’ most important constituency and it seems reasonable that students should have an opportunity to contribute their views about issues that affect them.”

When I presented all of this evidence of support from their constituents, they merely dismissed my idea. One member of the board wanted to know if I knew about school advisory committees, and two others said they would support my proposal if I could guarantee that the student adviser would contribute to each meeting.

At the last regular meeting for the year, I presented even more information and more support. To find ways of convincing the two members who said they would support my proposal if I could guarantee that the student would contribute, I contacted the N.C. Board of Education’s Assistant Executive Director, Betsy West, once again. As I said before, the state board of education has two student advisers who attend board meetings every month. Ms. West informed me that the student advisers are sent materials before each board meeting, just like every other board member. The students are expected to have read the materials and be prepared to discuss issues that affect students across the state. Board members will usually ask how the advisers feel about certain issues affecting students. Obviously, these student advisers stepped up to the plate or the seats would have been eliminated at some point during the twenty years the positions have been established.

The board can also assign the student advisers to work on special projects. For example, after the ratification of the No Child Left Behind Act, the state had to come up with names to distinguish different achievement levels of schools. They delegated this project to the students who helped come up with the names used today.

Ms. West believes that having student advisers on the board is highly successful and important. She said by phone, “Sometimes the students will have something to say that the board had not uncovered. The student perspective as a direct customer will obviously be a bit different from the provider… It gives the board members the student perspective and allows them to weigh all opinions.”

The student adviser would have the same responsibility as elected adult board members to be prepared before meetings and able to speak on issues affecting students. The student adviser could also deliver a report during the meeting just as the superintendent does.

To address the issue of redundancy with already established school advisory committees, the very limited student representation it provides is far removed from the workings of the Buncombe County School Board. Local advisory councils rightly focus on the needs at their individual schools, which do not always represent the needs of the entire county. A student adviser, working with student representatives from all six high schools, would be better able to articulate the interests of all students directly to the board without having that information filtered through several layers of bureaucracy or limited to a five-minute public comment statement.

I feel that it is necessary for students to have representation in the decisions that affect their education. Students will feel like they are an integral part of making these decisions. By giving a qualified student a non-voting position on the board, youth would be allowed direct representation and provided an opportunity to experience actual, legal policymaking first-hand. Their knowledge of the local government and political process would also be greatly enhanced.

By creating a direct dialogue between the student body of Buncombe County and the school board, parents and students will be better informed of important school policy decisions; the school administration would have a source of regular comprehensive feedback from the students affected by their policies; and a spirit of self-education on the behalf of students would be immediately fostered. A non-voting position on the school board would allow students to learn the process that goes into improving education, thus encouraging further interaction between the community and the school board.

I cannot stress enough how student representation is not a “strange concept.” Many local boards across the country have student advisers, including Washington, D.C.; Columbia, Missouri; and several cities in California. The North Carolina Board has two student advisers, along with several other state boards of education. Even the UNC Board of Governors has a student adviser, and although he cannot vote, he is involved in closed sessions and invited to speak as a board member at board meetings.

The Buncombe County Board of Education has sat on my proposal without a single motion to vote. After three months of speaking, three months of meetings, and an election approaching, they did not even comment on my plea for a comprehensive response in June.

Perhaps a compromise solution is to adopt the proposal on a trial basis for one year. If board members find the addition of a student adviser as beneficial as the North Carolina State Board of Education finds its two student representatives, then the position could become a permanent one.

If, however, the student adviser proves ineffective, then the position would lapse at the end of the trial period.

The school board has an unelected legal adviser who provides his perspective of the law. It is time for the board to include a student adviser to provide a perspective of the nearly 26,000 students who are affected every day by the decisions the school board makes. It is time to give this proposal a try.

Concurrently or alternatively, forming a youth commission for the county and/or city is also important, and that is something that I will work on doing in the future.

This November when you go the polls to vote, I hope you consider candidates for the open school board positions who will utilize their position for the sole benefit of the students, no one else.

The next school board meeting is on Thursday, August 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the central office on Bingham Road in west Asheville. I encourage everyone who has any interest in this important project to sign up for the public comment session to speak.

On my side, there are program guides and petitions for supporters to sign. There is also a jar for donations. Donations are not required, but they will greatly help with the costs of this project. I do ask that you remain quiet and respectful of the speakers when you come up to the table.

On a side note, I am working to start a chapter of the National Youth Rights Association in Asheville, and if you are interested in future meetings, you can sign up at the table.

I will now answer any questions from members of the media.

I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who came to speak today and everyone else in the audience. Thank you for your time and your support. Remember that the petitions are at the front of the room, and that the next school board meeting is on August 3.

Buncombe County Board of Education – August 3, 2006

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Superintendent, members of the Buncombe County Board of Education:

Good evening. As you are aware, I have spoken at the last three regular board meetings about adding a student adviser onto the school board. Tonight, I will update you on the progress made on this project over the summer months.

Since last February, I have surveyed members of the city council, county commissioners, and other government officials of their thoughts on student representation on school boards.

Four out of the five commissioners serving the County of Buncombe have responded to the survey, and all four were in favor. Those four are David Gantt, Bill Stanley, David Young, and Chair Nathan Ramsey.

Five out of the seven city council members serving the City of Asheville have responded to the survey, and all five were in favor. Those five are Robin Cape, Jan Davis, Bryan Freeborn, Brownie Newman, and Vice Mayor Holly Jones.

After holding a press conference and public forum concerning my project, the morning radio show hosts from 96.5 WOXL invited me to talk on the air about the work I have done. Throughout the show, many people called in to tell me they support having a student adviser on the school board.

Until just a few days before the filing for the three open seats on the school board ended, only one person had filed to run in the Enka and Erwin districts, and only two had filed to run in the Reynolds district, one of which is an incumbent. On July 27, 2006, the Asheville Citizen-Times wrote, “At a time when a quality education is ever more essential to the future of the county’s young people and to the region’s economic survival, few seem willing to take on the challenge of providing the leadership needed to ensure the highest standards and greatest opportunities.”

This lack of interest is astounding. In a county with several thousand people eligible to run, only four had chosen to do so at the time. What is perhaps more astounding is despite the adults’ disinterest in the school system and government, an active student who is willing to advise the board of education in hopes of improving the quality of education for fellow students is turned down. The opposition is only coming from few because it is apparent that the citizens of the county overwhelmingly support the project.

Many different boards across the state and country already include student representation, including the N.C. State Board of Education and the UNC Board of Governors. Some of the local school boards across the country even allow students to vote and others give their student advisers elective credit at their schools. In addition to campaigning for the position here, I will be working with the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to add a youth adviser or youth council onto their board in the coming months.

There are many issues that students face everyday, and the student body lacks a formal voice in the decisions that affect their daily lives. Students naturally feel more comfortable talking with other students, so they are far more likely to reach out to a peer on the school board than to an older authority figure.

Since students are involved in the many functions of schools on a daily basis, they are perhaps the most qualified to discuss the majority of the issues they face. Students are definitely more involved than certain school board members who staff rarely see or hear from. The students know what they need in the school, likely more than those who do not attend the schools.

According to the Deputy Executive Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, “The contribution of students to the education policymaking process is without question an asset to the states and local communities that presently have students serving on boards of education.”

If anyone has any comments or questions, I will be happy to address them at this time.

Thank you.

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