1969: R-H a Trailblazer in Embracing Student Voice

  • Each year, a student from Rush-Henrietta Senior High School is appointed to serve as a liaison to the Board of Education. This student is invited to attend meetings and given an opportunity to share ideas and news with board members. This type of interaction between students and board members is common across our state now, but did you know our district was the first in New York to provide this opportunity?

    In 1969, Rush-Henrietta made the bold decision to offer high school students a formal voice with the Board of Education. According to the October 30, 1969, Democrat and Chronicle, the district “suggested the move well before the state’s top educator came up with similar ideas.” Acting State Education Commissioner Ewald Nyquist praised Rush-Henrietta for giving students more say by creating what he described as “an official adviser to the board.”
    Rush-Henrietta high school students chose a representative to the board during an election held the following week. Charles Petrin, president of the student council, explained to the newspaper that students were “pleasantly surprised” by the board’s decision. “Our purpose is just to be there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of speaking closely to the board at the decision-making time.”

    The vote was approved 6-1. The lone dissenting vote came from Jim Breese, remembered best for his record-long tenure years later as Henrietta town supervisor. His colleagues on the board agreed that offering students a direct way to communicate with them was important.

    Amplifying the voice of students continues to be a priority in Rush-Henrietta. For many years, the district has sought feedback through its annual Student Satisfaction Survey. Most recently, the Rush-Henrietta Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council made a dozen recommendations to the Board of Education. One suggestion is to encourage the district to seek additional ways to include students in important conversations taking place throughout the district. This would help to meet our identified need of ensuring student voice and input in decision-making, while recognizing the cultural backgrounds, insights, and strengths of our diverse students.

    Perhaps Robert McClelland, the board member who made the motion to establish the position of student board representative, said it best. “We want to get all the good advice we can,” he explained in 1969. “The student is in a position to know more about some things than the board can know.”

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