With the election just over a month away, seven high school sophomores from New Haven Public Schools have submitted petitions to run for Board of Education membership.
The Committee on Student Elections — the aldermanic committee that oversees the election — convened to discuss election procedure and school engagement Thursday evening. This year marks the second year of student BOE elections, which began after a multiyear push by community members and legislators, including Sarah Eidelson ’12. Though state law prohibits the student members from voting in the BOE, they perform roles similar to full board members, such as attending board meetings and reporting constituents’ concerns. The deadline for prospective candidates to submit petitions for consideration is March 9, and candidates will be announced March 13, according to Suzanne Lyons, the interim chair of the committee and member of the BOE College and Career Pathways Department. This year, the committee aims to engage more students and provide a voting process that mimics general municipal elections.
“I expect higher levels of engagement to come once we actually have candidates on the slate,” Lyons said. “The great thing is that the schools have lived through [the election] once already, and so they have a sense in their head of what it looks like and what it could look like, and so a lot of it will be refining what’s going on.”
Lyons added that the committee has only targeted sophomores at this point because they are the only students eligible to run. She said she anticipates higher student engagement once the election is better publicized to reach other grade levels.
In order to run for the two-year membership, sophomores must collect 100 student signatures — 50 from their own high school, and 50 from five other NHPS high schools. Lyons said she reviews each signature using the district’s student information system before approving the petitions.
The committee, composed of the respective chairs of the aldermanic Youth Services Committee and Education Committee, two BOE designees, two community members and one representative from the mayor’s office, has been refining practices used during last year’s electoral process to facilitate this year’s election.
The election is intended to mirror a real municipal election to the largest possible degree, Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said. Candidates will appear on the ballot in the order in which the committee received and approved their petitions, Lyons said.
Greenberg said the addition of a write-in option on this year’s ballot would offer students a truer vision of real elections. While Randy Goldson, a representative from the mayor’s office who sits in on committee meetings, voiced concerns that such an option would be unfair for candidates who fulfilled the petition requirements, Greenberg said these candidates would have a significant advantage because of more prominent placement on the ballot.
Committee community representative Rachel Heerema said she thinks the student BOE election is an excellent opportunity to teach students “civics and democracy, live and in action.” She emphasized the important role student voice plays on the BOE.
“To get students — both voters and candidates — to think about the structural issues of their schools and how the school is operating gives all students a bit more power, a bit more ownership over their education,” Heerema said.
Heerema said the committee will also attract student engagement through a candidates’ forum in which students running for BOE membership will present their platforms.
Lyons said in order to increase student and school engagement, the committee will hire a BOE videographer to film a promotional video featuring the current student members, Coral Ortiz, a junior at Hillhouse High School, and Kimberly Sullivan, a senior at The Sound School. The video, meant to capture NHPS student life and voice, will be used to galvanize student participation in the election as voters and candidates, Lyons said.
The election for the new student BOE member takes place April 7.