Students Need to be Represented on the Board of Trustees

There+is+enough+space+around+the+board+room+table+for+student+and+teacher+representatives+to+join+The+Benjamin+School%27s+Board+of+Trustees.

Evan Liberman

There is enough space around the board room table for student and teacher representatives to join The Benjamin School’s Board of Trustees.

The Board of Trustees is constantly making decisions to improve the School, but how can it make the best decisions to support Benjamin without any student or teacher representation?

The Board currently consists mostly of current and former Benjamin parents, which means that other members of the Benjamin community are not able to routinely and consistently provide other perspectives. The Board should have members from the myriad of constituencies of the Benjamin community, including at least one student, one teacher, and alumni from multiple different graduating classes.

Including a student on the Board would bring another viewpoint that wouldn’t be available otherwise. He or she would be able to represent the student body. So many decisions revolve around students that having a student provide input, whether they are a voting member of the Board or not, would be valuable. Choosing the student would be simple; whether by simply appointing the leader of Student Council, the President of Honor Council, the President of NHS, or by holding a student election where interested members of the student body run a campaign, there are a number of ways students could be selected to make important contributions to the Board. 

Not only will this inspire more student leadership and give the students more responsibilities, but it will engage the student body in a way that isn’t otherwise possible. By participating on the Board, students may learn to be responsible and conduct themselves in a mature and composed manner while working to make decisions. It would allow students to have an idea of how much work goes into all the decisions that are made and would allow for all students, through their representative, to feel more involved in the School.

Having a role on the Board of Trustees can also prepare students for important roles that they will have after graduating high school. Learning how to collaborate and interact with a group of adults and to act professionally in a meeting will benefit students in the long run. When they go to college and beyond, they will thus better represent the ideals of a Benjamin graduate: strong communicator, community leader, and empathetic advocate for their community and for themselves. Being a part of the Board may even inspire a possible career in politics or corporate governance.

According to a recent article, “High School Student Representation on the School Board for Okemos High School,” students on the Board “benefits a) the school board through input and reaction from the student body viewpoint; and b) the student body with direct information from the board and the experience of serving as a member of the board.”

Having a student Board member in high school will help students understand how to communicate with their student representative and the Board to have their voices heard, and since many colleges and universities have a student representative on the Board, it will prepare them for being part of a larger community. ACT.org explains that “student trustees can use their positions to address college affordability effectively. According to Brown, the first step student trustees should take is to ‘ensure that students’ perspectives and needs are part of the equation when decisions are made institution-wide.’ Like any other trustee, your voice can make a difference.”

There should also be a teacher on the Board. At the beginning of each year, every teacher who does not have an administrative position should participate in a forum during which an election is held to select a representative to the Board. In doing so, teachers will be able to raise specific issues that directly affect them, yet which other groups (students, parents, and alumni) may not be aware of. With representation by teachers as well as students, the Board will take a broader perspective on the whole school rather than just a select group of people within the School, and as a result, they can make decisions that better reflect the whole school community.

A number of other schools around the country have taken this progressive approach, according to a recent article published by the National Association of Independent Schools, “Boardroom: Giving Students a Seat at the Trustee Table.” The Cambridge School of Weston, a high school for boarding students and day students, adopted a strategy of having student representation on its Board, and reported that “having a constant, engaged student presence on our board of typically 20 trustees has been one of the greatest, most rewarding assets of our school’s governing structure.”

Of course, there are some subject matters, such as legal problems or administrative performance, that are not appropriate for students to be a part of, and if that is the case, the Board should have a closed meeting process. In this situation, only high ranking members of the Board should be present at the meeting, but all members of the Board should still be informed that a meeting is going on. This will ensure that while certain people are not actually involved in the meeting, there is no secrecy as to whether a meeting is happening.

It is time for Benjamin to embrace this progressive approach. It will not only allow the students to feel more involved and provide important information, but it will also unite the School in a way that isn’t otherwise possible.