Deniz Saip

With elections taking place next week, the seven New Haven Public Schools sophomores vying for the open student seat on the Board of Education have laid out their platforms and are reaching out to district students for support.

Last Wednesday’s candidates’ forum at the New Haven Free Public Library gave the seven candidates the opportunity to answer questions posed by moderators Suzanne Lyons, chair of the aldermanic Committee on Student Elections and member of the BOE College and Career Pathways Department, and Earle Lobo, who represents the city’s youth services department on the committee. In between remarks by Mayor Toni Harp, Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 and current student BOE representatives Kimberly Sullivan and Coral Ortiz, each candidate told the district why he or she deserves the seat at Wednesday’s forum. The election will run from Thursday, April 7 to Friday, April 8 at all NHPS high schools.

“I think for the candidates, it really gives them the opportunity to shine, but also to really reflect on their motivations and aspirations for the position,” Lyons said. “The forum was a great way for the candidates to start engaging in the process and articulating their views.”

The seven candidates — Jacob Spell and Dwayne Carson of the Hyde Leadership School; Alondra Martinez-Lopez, Melady Morocho and Tyron Houston of High School in the Community; Joseph Lampo of Wilbur Cross; and Yeimy Morales of Hill Regional Career High School — all had the chance to speak before a crowd of roughly 30 at the March 23 forum. Many of the students highlighted their affinity toward leadership, diverse backgrounds and the desire to give constituents a voice.

Lyons said each student had the chance to make a two-minute opening statement before proceeding to answer questions compiled by her, the committee and audience members. Questions ranged from asking candidates to describe their leadership experience to articulating how they would galvanize student involvement in the district.

“The school system is very different than the school system that we were in, so it’s very important to us — those of us educated in a different time, for a different world — to hear from you,” Harp said at the forum. “Your voice is very, very important to us.”

Though state law prohibits the student members from voting in the BOE, they perform roles similar to those of full board members, such as attending board meetings and reporting constituents’ concerns. The election is intended to mirror a real municipal election, Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, who also sits on the student elections committee, said last month. The candidates’ forum enhanced this year’s campaign season by attracting student engagement and making the second student election resemble city elections more closely than last year’s, according to committee community representative Rachel Heerema.

But the committee still struggles to engage student voters, Lyons added. She said candidates reach more voters by visiting schools and attending district events than by going to events held by the committee.

“[The forum] will afford the candidates the opportunity to share their inspiration for running and their ideas on impacting education across the city,” Harries said in a press release distributed before the event.

This year marks the second year of student BOE elections, which came to fruition after a multi-year push by school board stakeholders, community members and legislators, leading to a 2013 referendum and revision of the New Haven City Charter. Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 oversaw last year’s inaugural student election, which took place in early June.

In order to qualify for candidacy, each of the seven high school sophomores had to collect 100 signatures: 50 from students at their own schools and 50 from students across the district. The city charter calls for one junior and one senior to sit on the BOE each year. Although two students were elected last year — Sullivan, a then-junior at Sound School, and Ortiz, a then-sophomore at Hillhouse High School — only one sophomore will be elected from now on to maintain the two positions. This year’s victor will take Sullivan’s seat once she graduates at the end of this school year in compliance with the charter.