The Albemarle County School Board discussing the County Student Advisory Council's proposal

After years of talking about increased student involvement with the Albemarle County School Board, it appears that a body of county high school students will be representing their peers at the Board’s business meetings beginning in the fall.

This development comes as the result of a May 23 presentation in which the County Student Advisory Council, a group of 9th – 12th graders who represent the students from all of the county’s high schools, asked the Board how the two entities could communicate more effectively.  

“The bottom line is that everyone agreed that student [input] would be valuable,” Albemarle schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said, “and the two ways to facilitate this are for [Board members] to attend the [CSAC] meetings, and for the students to attend Board meetings.”

While the nuances of this new relationship are still being worked out, Board members said that the student representative will not be able to vote, that students will rotate through the seat in order to provide for a cross-section of opinions and that some Board members will begin attending CSAC’s monthly meetings.

“We don’t want to have a senior from Western Albemarle High School’s view [be] the only one we hear from,” Board member Eric Strucko said.  “Different grade levels would be great, so at least we hear different perspectives at different stages of your high school careers, and from different schools as well.”

Albemarle County School Board chairman Stephen Koleszar said that his vision, and what he felt was consensus from the Board, was for the student representative to sit with the Board during business meetings and participate in the conversation.

“As we go into our agenda items, and say we have an issue like testing or something that involves the students…if they have a seat at the table, they would have the opportunity to comment on any issue we were discussing,” Koleszar said.

Koleszar also pointed to the importance of the CSAC’s preparation for each meeting.

“I would hope that they’d schedule their meetings during the same week as ours so they could represent the consensus of that committee on the issues we’re discussing,” Koleszar said.

And Albemarle County lead coach and facilitator of social studies Jennifer Sublette said the CSAC is already planning for next year.

“Our next steps will be for the 2013-14 student leaders of the CSAC to meet this summer to explore adjustments we need to make in order to build a more interactive relationship with the School Board,” Sublette told Charlottesville Tomorrow in an email. 

“Our goals will be to integrate Board agenda items into our monthly agendas to give the whole Council time to discuss topics and research issues as needed in their schools,” Sublette added. 

For many years the relationship between the two groups had failed to move beyond agreement that student input would benefit all parties, and Koleszar attributes the communication shortfall to both entities.

“The thing that has happened…is that the council has reorganized itself and become a much stronger group,” Koleszar said.  “They used to be randomly picked, but now they will have freshman that will stay on all four years and there will be more continuity.”

CSAC’s faculty leadership has strengthened as well, Koleszar said, and he noted that the Board hadn’t pushed the relationship either.

“I think it’s more of an inertia problem [with the Board] than…a structural issue,” Koleszar added.

Since 2010, Sublette said, a new wave of student energy has led to the resurrection of the leadership group that at one point seemed to be losing steam.

“It’s a lot of fun to work with these student leaders who are already doers,” Sublette said.  “It’s a neat teaching moment about civic engagement, and about what an advisory role is and what that means.”

The CSAC has been meeting on and off for a decade and they have played a significant role in the dialogue surrounding such issues as bullying, fan behavior at athletic events and the proliferation of energy drinks.

But more recently, Sublette said, the group has expressed an interest in tackling their school system’s operational issues.

“They’re interested in clarifying the background for initiatives such as virtual learning requirements…and budget items like technology expenditures and salary,” Sublette said.  “They are getting the chance to delve into public documents.”

“The report we just got showed them being better organized and so the board set a few more structural [changes in motion],” Koleszar said.  “We’re going to put them on the agenda in the fall to get their input.”