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Students get a chance to shape district

Kenmore West junior Scott Abraham didn't have a particularly close relationship with then-School Superintendent Steven Achramovitch. About the only time their paths crossed was at school sporting events or when Achramovitch happened to be in his building and a voice came over the public address system advising students: "The superintendent is in the building; be on your best behavior."

Chances are better that the person chosen to succeed Achramovitch will know who Scott is. In fact, whoever it is may one day walk up to him and say: "Thanks for hiring me."

Scott is one of four high school students -- two each from Kenmore West and Kenmore East -- sitting on a 36-member advisory committee that will recommend the next person to lead the school district.

"I want the general consensus and opinions of the students in the school to be represented, and I think that I can do that, and I will do that to the best of my ability," he said.

In addition to his specific role in Ken-Ton, Scott also is part of a larger group: students who are being called upon to do more at school than just go to class and learn. In recent years, more school districts have been calling on their kids to help make policy decisions.

A 2003 state law gave school districts the power to put nonvoting student members on their school boards. In recent years, voters in several suburban districts approved ballot measures to do just that.

So in theory, anyway, a student could spend the day in the classroom studying for an exam and the evening in the boardroom examining the proposed school budget.

Springville School Superintendent Brenda Peters said she watches her student representative, Samantha Townsend, and sees that she appears to be a bit overwhelmed during board meetings. It's easy to understand why: A teenager in a roomful of adults talking about arcane education policy might be looking for the nearest escape route. (Some adults might be, as well.)

Peters has taken to asking questions of other students in the room -- who might be there for a class credit -- and asking their opinions. Hearing her peers, Samantha gets more comfortable and more vocal.

The addition already has borne fruit: When the board was discussing the issue of student obesity, Samantha noted that her fellow students might not be on board with the idea of eliminating French fries from the menu. So the board sought student opinions about what could be removed instead.

Anne Marotta, who has been serving as acting superintendent in Ken-Ton since Achramovitch left to become superintendent of the Greece School District near Rochester, said she has worked in other districts where students routinely were asked to weigh in on major decisions. In the case of a superintendent search, she said, students bring different ideas to the process.

"The staff members are looking at the leadership from a boss perspective," she said. "Students are looking at it from a perspective in which that person will be able to afford them some of the opportunities they would like in their education."

Asked whether he was concerned that his opinions might be dismissed in a room where he is one of four students versus 32 adults, Scott said he hadn't really thought of that. But he plans to point out that while teachers' jobs will be affected by the new superintendent, students' lives will be.

That's something Scott says all superintendents should remember. He plans to make sure at least this one does.


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