By Bob Skolnik
Next year there could be a student, or two, sitting at the table during meetings of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education.
Newly elected school board member Thomas Jacobs, who campaigned as the voice of the students, suggested at last week's school board meeting that they consider adding one or two non-voting student representatives to the RBHS school board.
Jacobs said he got the idea from a friend who teaches at Leyden High School, which recently added student representatives to its school board.
He said it is important for the board to hear from students directly and suggested that their presence at the board table would influence discussion and focus board members' attention on what really matters.
"Adding students would be adding the core constituency to the room," Jacobs said. "Things change when the people you represent are in the room."
Other board members reacted with interest to Jacobs' idea, some more warily than others.
"I think it's an interesting idea, one I hadn't thought of," said board member Gina Sierra. "The students are the eyes and ears of the school."
Board member Ramona Towner also seemed intrigued.
"I think it is well worth considering," Towner said.
The school board and administration will research and discuss the idea over the next few months.
"I would say we don't need to rush on a decision," said Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
RBHS board members and administrators were unaware that Lyons Township High School has had a student representative on its school board for the past 20 years.
"I think that they really add to our meetings," said Tom Cushing, the president of the LTHS school board. "They really have their finger on the pulse of what's happening in the school."
Cushing said LTHS board members listen to their student representative, especially on issues that directly affect students.
"They have our ear," Cushing said.
The student representative to the LTHS school board must be a senior and is chosen by a small committee of administrators and one school member late in the student's junior year after an open application process.
LTHS Superintendent Tim Kilrea said having a student representative sit at the board table has worked well at LTHS.
"I think it's great for our board members to hear that student voice, because that usually is the driver of what we do in schools," Kilrea said.
In addition, Kilrea said, the student representative at LTHS also serves as the board's emissary to the students and actively seeks out student opinions to bring to board members. The student representative presents a report to the school board at every meeting.
"I meet with that student regularly," Kilrea said. "Those students do reach out to groups that they really have not been a part of before to learn more about the school."
The student representative at LTHS has no vote and does not sit in on closed sessions of the school board.
Cushing said that serving as the student representative to the school board is an educational experience for the student.
"It's always so interesting to see the growth in the student representative over the course of the year," Cushing said. "I think it's very good for them in terms of their development, when they're going to be going out and doing interview and presentations."
Jacobs said he thinks there should be two student representatives to the RBHS school board.
"I think it should be a female and a male representative," Jacobs said. "I think it would send a good signal that we should have an equal representation among the genders."
Some RBHS school board members worried about the time commitment being a student representative would place on an already busy student.
Skinkis said that the choice of the student, or students, would be important.
"This will be only as good as the student we select should we go down that road," Skinkis said.