Last week, the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees swore in a new student trustee, Itzi Sanchez. Ms. Sanchez attends New School and is looking forward to providing a voice for all the district students. We had an opportunity to speak with her earlier this week and wanted to share our thoughts on this vital role.
“Nothing about us without us,” is a slogan that, in its English form, came to prominence with James Charlton and his book of the same name about disability rights. But the idea is much older, and for centuries has conveyed the idea that people affected by decisions should have a voice in the decision-making process. That idea was at the heart of the “No taxation without representation” rallying cry of the American Revolution but carries through to the reasons why collective bargaining agreements are negotiated with representatives of affected organizations.
“It’s important because a student’s voice should matter,” Ms. Sanchez said during our conversation. “You guys, as adults, as our teachers, our supervisors, should understand our side. How we feel about things. How we see things.”
We could not agree more. Although the California Education Code prohibits the student trustee’s vote from counting in the total, they may cast a preferential vote before the elected trustees make their final decision. We feel that this opportunity is a vital component of centering the students’ perspective and why we changed our bylaws last June to allow for that option going forward.
And the preferential vote is not mandatory. Being a trustee is incredibly challenging. No less so for the student who takes on that role for the school year. While we encourage our student trustees to read the board packets, we recognize that their studies must be their top priority. But, when they feel comfortable doing so, sharing the student perspective is welcomed and valued.
During our conversation, what was abundantly clear was the critical role that our district’s teachers have in drawing out potential leaders. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I was not really into school things. I just went, did my work, what I had to do.” Ms. Sanchez said. “I didn’t even know about this until my teacher said, ‘Oh, she would be great for that.’” We often say, “Seeing is believing.” But, sometimes, the opposite is true, and believing in someone can be the first step in seeing them reach their potential.
Ms. Sanchez understands that the student trustee role will be challenging. “I’m sometimes shy. I don’t really like being around too many people. It’s sometimes hard for me, and I can’t just talk to people, or in front of a big audience, you know? But I was all like, well, let’s just give it a shot. Maybe it can help.”
Ms. Sanchez also was clear that while she would learn something from the role, she also has a lot to offer. This role gives her a platform for representing students from all the different PVUSD schools. She has already heard from many students who are hopeful that she will take an active role in making sure the student community is heard. When asked about how her perspective from being a student at New School shapes her view of the student trustee role, she said, “I just feel that it’s important for you guys to hear what every student has to say. I do sometimes feel a step away because I’m coming from an alternative school, not a regular high school like Watsonville, P.V. or Aptos, you know? But it’s important to me.”
The student trustee role is a remarkable opportunity to be actively involved in the politics around school governance. School boards are a microcosm of our larger political structure. Seeing how trustees interact with district staff, students, and members of the public can provide insight into how policy decisions are made. It’s a chance to see what works, and frankly, what does not.
While we may think of our students as the future leaders of our community, the fact is brave young people, like Ms. Sanchez, are already leaders. Their future is now, and the student trustee role is an excellent way to work towards their vision of what they want to create for our society going forward.
A humbling aspect of becoming a school board trustee is realizing how many different considerations go into every decision. This column is PVUSD’s community outreach to clarify how the board arrives at its decisions. Jennifer Holm is President of the PVUSD Board of Trustees and Jennifer Schacher is the Vice-President. Their views are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian. Contact Holm at [email protected] and Schacher at [email protected].