On Tuesday, September 12, five high school seniors got up in front of a group of their fellow students, teachers, several school board members, parents, and school administrators to state their views on issues facing our schools and their ideas on ways to improve the local education system. Each one was campaigning for the position of Student Representative on the school board.
Hernando County is one of only five districts out of sixty-seven in Florida that has a student delegate seated on their school board. This is a testament to the school system’s leadership and vision from the highest levels of the district to the classroom levels, including individual principals and administrators, teachers, and, most importantly, the students. Each of the five candidates put forth different yet complementary, ideas on ways to improve the schools.
Asked why he decided to run for this office, Robert Kordon from Nature Coast High School stated, “I‘ve always been really passionate about making my voice heard. My biggest thing is expanding student government.”
Robert led the effort this past May to get a large turnout of students at an important school board meeting. He wants to see that involvement continue by encouraging students to attend school board meetings on a regular basis.
The passion with which Robert speaks about his beliefs would lead one to believe that he plans to pursue a career in politics. However, that is not the case; he wants to enroll in the University of South Florida’s Digital Communications and Multimedia Journalism program and become a documentary film producer. In this respect, Robert will still be making his voice heard, but through different means.
Hernando High School’s representative, Olivia Serralles, wants to make it possible for more students to become involved in extracurricular activities by having the schools provide some sort of transportation home for those who need it. Olivia quoted statistics in her speech that showed 45 percent of the students said they would participate in more after-school activities if they had transportation.
“This would bring about an exact correlation in the students’ academic performances with statistics stating that students who are involved in after-school activities perform better in school, have better mental health, higher self-esteem, and are more likely to finish high school.”
Like Robert, Olivia doesn’t plan on a career in politics. She wants to study veterinary medicine and become a veterinarian. She already has on-the-job experience working at an animal clinic right now. Olivia is active in her school’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) program and wants to see that program expanded to middle and elementary schools.
Rylee Rhineberger from Weeki Wachee High School wants to establish a program that would help fifth graders transition to middle school and eighth graders transition to high school.
“It’s really scary for students to make that step. I want to make sure that students know what their options are and know what to expect when they start their new school.”
Rylee explained how this could work, “High schoolers could come with a presentation on their school and visit the middle schools. Then we can take the middle school delegates and build them up into leaders to help the elementary students.”
She also addressed the lack of morale at some of the schools with so much emphasis on testing. Rylee discussed the importance of Positive Behavior Initiative Programs that reward students for their attendance records and their behavior with fun incentives.
F.W. Springstead senior Brennan Butler decided to run in order to make students more aware that they can become involved in school board meetings and possibly influence the board with their ideas.
“I want to create empowerment in the students so that the students know that they can make their voices heard. I want to be able to create groups of students that could be involved in board proceedings and also spread student involvement to the middle schools. I don’t want to make big promises because there aren’t the same issues at all the schools.”
Brennan’s goal, once she graduates, is to study chemical engineering at the University of Florida.
Jade Parker from Central High School couldn’t be at the gathering in person, so she gave a video presentation. One of the issues she wants to address is the lack of instructors teaching advanced classes.
“There are too many teachers leaving the district, and the only way to solve this issue is to boost teachers’ pay,” Jade stated.
Ja’Oni Kincade, a junior at Hernando High School, was appointed by her teacher as a junior delegate. She was chosen for that position out of a group of other students through an interview process with their school sponsor. They were judged on their leadership skills and their goals.
“My job is to be an assistant to our senior delegate, Olivia. Right now, I’m involved in Student Government and Future Business Leaders of America,” Ja’Oni remarked.
One of her goals is to get more African-American students into extracurricular activities besides sports through a “job fair” type of event in which they can see what organizations there are and learn more about them. Like Olivia Serralles, she is involved in FFA and wants to go into veterinary medicine.
Before the candidates made their speeches, three of the school board members gave some advice to the fifth-grade and ninth-grade student representatives, who would cast their votes for the candidate of their choice.
Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino said, “The opportunity to learn about our candidates is something this country needs more of. Learn the facts before you vote.”
Board member Mark Johnson commented, “The person you choose to sit on this board is your voice to us.”
Board member Susan Duval remarked, “You have a big responsibility. You [the student delegates] need to go back to your schools, talk to your fellow students, and get their ideas. We need you to become part of the history of this school district.”
Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson had perhaps the most pointed advice for the students who would be voting. She emphasized the importance of being informed about the candidates and the issues.
“You’re all winners. You were elected to represent your schools and be here today to cast your vote for who’s going to sit up here. The most important elections are right here with the school board and the county commission because those people you elect touch your lives in making decisions that affect your lives,” Ms. Anderson stated.
Ms. Tori Hunt and Ms. Ashley Buckey, both teachers at Weeki Wachee High School and advisors with the Student Delegate Program, each gave the students pep talks as well. “We [the teachers] are here every day for all of you,” Ms. Hunt commented. “We want to hear your solutions,” added Ms. Buckey.
Superintendent of Schools John Stratton told the students, “We look forward to hearing about what you need and, most important, what you think. It’s a very important responsibility to pick someone to represent you today and to speak up for your fellow students. This is an important civic responsibility of voting.”
After the five candidates finished their speeches, all the students cast their votes using ballots identical to what adult voters use in regular elections. When the votes were tallied, Rylee Rhineberger was declared the winner. Each of the other candidates pledged to support and work with her for the good of the students. Last Tuesday’s election for Student Representative to the School Board is a stellar example of democracy in action.