Jacob Spell won New Haven Board of Education membership Friday in the second student election in Elm City history.
Spell, a sophomore at North Haven’s Hyde Leadership School, took 29.3 percent of the vote. All New Haven Public Schools high school students were eligible to cast ballots, but only 2,830 students — roughly half of all NHPS high school students — voted in this year’s election. Spell beat out six other candidates and will replace current BOE member Kimberly Sullivan, a Sound School senior, when she graduates later this spring.
“I’m ready to represent New Haven,” Spell said at City Hall Friday. “Let’s work together to make a change.”
In his campaign video, Spell highlighted his desire to promote a culture of respect among students and school officials and his hope to increase the prominence of student voices in BOE decision-making.
A 2013 referendum and revision of the New Haven City Charter stipulated that one junior and one senior sit on the BOE each year as nonvoting members. In last year’s inaugural election, Sullivan and Coral Ortiz, then a sophomore at Hillhouse High School, won BOE membership.
Suzanne Lyons, the interim chair of the Aldermanic Committee on Student Elections and a member of the BOE College and Career Pathways Department, said the committee used the “best practices” from last year’s inaugural election to improve this year’s process. While last year’s ballot counters were unfolding ballots until 1:30 a.m. on election night, votes were counted and announced by 8:30 p.m. this year.
To galvanize student engagement, Mayor Toni Harp, the current BOE president, greeted voters at Hillhouse High School on Thursday, though voters were able to cast their ballots at their own schools. Polls opened at schools at different times, with the earliest being at 7:45 a.m. on Thursday. Polls closed citywide Friday afternoon such that ballot counting could begin at 3 p.m. that day.
Lyons said the committee is still working to increase student engagement in both the election process and in the district.
“I’m excited to see if and how the awareness levels have changed and to see the excitement levels of students coming out tomorrow,” Lyons said on the eve of the election.
While Lyons said student councils and some district schools such as High School in the Community, near State Street, made announcements and conducted election-oriented activities to mobilize student voters, this year’s turnout was lower than last year, when 3,469 students elected two student members. Wilbur Cross, a high school in East Rock, had the lowest voter turnout of any school both years, with roughly 20 percent of students voting this year.
The election is intended to mirror a real municipal election, according to Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, a member of the student elections committee. 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.
Spell will represent the approximately 22,000 students enrolled in NHPS.