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Should Kentucky Students Have a Say in Superintendent Selections?

Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons
Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons
Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons

As it stands, teachers, parents and others are allowed to sit on hiring committees for Kentucky school district superintendents.

Students aren't allowed.

But a group of Kentucky students has been lobbying for the right to have one of their peers sit on those hiring committees, which vet superintendent candidates and send recommendations to their respective schools boards.

“We are the ones being directly affected by these decisions, and it’s weird to me that we’re not being included," said Susie Smith, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington who is part of the group requesting the change.

The students have gained a high-profile supporter—state Rep. Derrick Graham, who chairs the state House Education Committee.

The students worked with staff from Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence to push for law after students in Fayette County Public Schools were denied a spot on the hiring committee following Superintendent Tom Shelton's resignation.

“Students really are the chief stake holders. We  spend 35 hours a week in the classroom," said Gentry Fitch, a senior at West Jessamine High School in Nicholasville.

"We are not a special interest—we are the chief interest."

Kentucky state law does not allow students to have a vote for who their next superintendent would be.

The Fayette panel includes two teachers, a staff member, a principal, a parent or guardian; those members are elected by their respective groups. Also, a school board member is appointed to the committee.

Fitch and other students were able to convince Graham, a retired teacher, to file a bill.

"He was a little hesitant to sponsor the bill originally," he said.

But the students had done their research and Graham said he was impressed.

"We talked. They gave recommendations and some language along with their adviser," said Graham, a Frankfort Democrat.

Students recognized that leadership can make a big difference in how well the district operates, he said.

Graham also said some students are old enough to vote in high school. The state's education system has prided itself on offering real world experiences to students, and a seat on a superintendent selection committee would give "reasonable and responsible people who would be actively engaged," he said.

That, he added, would be another learning experience that involves critical thinking skills and working cooperatively with others.