Philadelphia school board seeking student applicants for advisory positions

Exterior of The School District of Philadelphia building.
The Philadelphia Board of Education is looking for ninth and 10th graders to join the board as advisory members. (Emma Lee / WHYY)

Attention ninth and 10th graders in Philadelphia district-run and charter schools: If you would like to be an advisory member of the Philadelphia Board of Education, you can apply between now and April 28.

For next school year, the board is making changes to its requirements for its non-voting student advisory members. Instead of seniors, it wants sophomores and juniors. And in addition to the two members, the school board plans to appoint an alternate. 

The Home Rule Charter  requires that the nine- member board have at least one student advisory member, but since 2018, it has had two.

The student members provide the board feedback about a variety of issues through regular reports, said Sarah-Ashley Andrews, the board’s liaison to the student advisory members. Each year, the student members have a different focus, from mental health to advocacy for more school funding. This past year, they participated in the superintendent selection process

This year, the board is also making a special outreach to students at charter schools to apply. 

“We are hoping one of the three spots goes to a charter student,” said Shakyra Greene, program manager for the board. “Charters are one third of the district, and it’s important they participate and have their voices heard.” 

Of the more than 197,000 students who attend publicly funded schools in the city, some 64,500 are in brick-and-mortar charters, and another 13,000 are in cyber charters. Since 2018, only one student advisory board member has been from a charter school. (The five-member School Reform Commission, which governed the district between 2001 and 2018, never had student advisory members.)

Applicants need to have at least a 2.5 grade point average and “be actively involved in their school community,” according to the application

The board is seeking sophomores and juniors to serve on the board next year “because we found seniors to be focused on the next stage for their lives,” Andrews said. “We don’t want that to be a deterrence and want them to enjoy their senior year.” 

The current student board member is Sophia Roach, who attends the High School of the Creative and Performing Arts and is the editor-in-chief of the citywide student publication, The Bullhorn.

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The board decided to add an alternate member because this year’s other student member, Love Speech, left the position for personal reasons. It’s the first time that has happened since 2018. 

The addition of an alternate is “to make sure somebody is in place if one member” leaves, Andrews said. The alternate member will go through the same orientation process as the two others, and will be asked to attend all the board meetings, at least remotely.

At the March board meeting, Central High School student Jeron Williams II chastised the board for leaving Speech’s seat open.

“From day one, there was no plan to fill Love’s seat. The board has yet again shortchanged our students,” Williams II said.

Greene said that between 30 and 80 students have applied for the position in each of the past five years, and that the number has dipped post-pandemic. “The first few years, it hovered around the 70-80 mark, and we hope this year to get the numbers back up,” she said.

Student applicants for the positions are vetted through a committee that includes representatives from various youth advocacy groups including the Philadelphia Student Union, the Philadelphia Youth Commission, and UrbEd, as well as the mayor’s Office of Youth Engagement. These and other groups forward five finalists to the superintendent, who then chooses the members and the alternate.

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org.

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