Calendar Change in Palo Alto, and a Student Voice on the Board

Last December, the board of the Palo Alto Unified School District in California narrowly voted (3-2) to approve a modified calendar that would place the start of the school year in mid-August in order to accommodate first semester final exams before the winter break.

The debate over the proposed calendar change was long and hard. Competing surveys were conducted, with different results, and stakeholders argued over the validity of the surveys. Opponents argued that pre-break finals, in December, would increase stress on high school students, piling finals on top of college application deadlines, and holiday performances and sports events. You can read about the situation in Palo Alto in three thorough articles on Palo Alto Patch: “Will Pre-Break Finals Really Reduce Student Stress” Part One and Part Two, and “New School Calendar with Pre-Break Finals Squeaks By at PAUSD Board Meeting.”

One thing that jumped out at me as I read the articles was that, in their final deliberation over the calendar, the PAUSD board members turned for the student perspective on the issue to the board’s student member.

According to SoundOut, a national non-profit promoting student involvement in educational decision-making, there are hundreds of school boards across the U.S. and Canada with student members, some of whom are full voting members of the board. The group also maintains an online collection of “resources promoting students on school boards.”

In the recent election in Northfield, the only candidate forum for school board candidates was ably organized and moderated entirely by members of the Mayor’s Youth Council. I have sat in on numerous meetings of the youth board of The Key (my younger son was a board member), and have worked with the enormously capable youth leadership of the skateboard coalition. A high school student from Northfield even attended the 2012 Democratic National Convention as a delegate. For several years, Northfield has been named one of the 100 Best Communities for Youth People.

82 school boards in Minnesota include student members, including the board in Virginia, Minnesota, which was the subject of this local news report.

Northfield’s youth are incredibly thoughtful, capable, and involved in their community. The youth voice is an important part of the conversation on school and community issues. Maybe it’s time to consider having a youth representative on the school board.

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