A School Board to vote for

Donagi endorses candidates for the upcoming LM school board election and calls for a student advisory board to be implemented.

When I wake up in the morning, where I spend my time, what I eat for lunch, what I can wear, the quality of my education, and whether I have to live on constant alert for bigotry, climate disaster, or violence are all out of my control. Instead, much of that control goes to a board of adults with no real expectation of listening to me or my needs. 

The Lower Merion School Board has more power over the average day to day lives of students than any state, local, or federal government. As school board elections approach, the LM student body should be paying close attention to the candidates on the ballot. 

As anyone currently in the midst of cramming for an AP Gov Test can tell you, citizens in a democracy are allowed a voice in the rules that govern their life. But while the phrase “Government By the People, For the People” is cliche to the point of meaninglessness, the school board is totally disconnected from the people they serve. From what I’ve witnessed, school boards run more like businesses by and for their stakeholders aiming to bolster property values, than a government by and for its people. 

The school board’s constituency is a body of taxpayers, including almost none of LMSD’s 8,700 students and over 1,400 staff members, many of whom live outside the district. The vast majority of students are under the age of 18, and there are few if any established channels for receiving student input on board policies. While the recent student survey regarding later school start times is a step in the right direction, the school board categorically fails to listen to the concerns of LMSD students. Staff, who largely live outside of the district and commute to LMSD schools, are hardly more represented. 

Until that changes, the best, and only, tools students have is to look into the candidates running for school board, endorse the ones that align the closest with our values, and push for the creation of more avenues for student voice. 

There are five open seats up for election next November, and candidates will first compete for party endorsements in the May 17 Primary Election. Of an original slate of eight democratic candidates and five republicans, the Democratic Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth (DCLMN) has endorsed five: Jason Herman, Shayna Kalish, Todd Ridky, Abigail Rubin, and Sarah Thomas. 

Voting in local elections can often feel like picking between the lesser of nine evils, but after sitting through candidate forums and meetings, and sifting through written responses, as an LM student I can endorse two candidates: Jason Herman and Shayna Kalish. 

Jason Herman, an attorney and professor at Saint Joseph’s University, has committed to striving for environmental sustainability and full day kindergarten, and using his experience at the New York City School Construction Authority to oversee facilities and building projects through the district. In his written responses to questions intended for the School Board Candidate Forum hosted in winter of this year, Herman expressed a willingness to  “engage students, listen to their concerns, support them, and include them in the decision-making process.” 

Shayna Kalish, the only incumbent running for reelection, has impressed me with her openness to student input. I have to respect her knowledge and experience on the school board, and she was a founding member of the school board Equity and Anti-Racism committee. Every time she is asked to speak on her values and commitments, she prioritizes the needs of marginalized students and the “inherent value of every human being.” Having established candidates on the board who’ve been demonstrably willing to dialogue with students, and who are committed to anti-racism is inherently worthwhile. 

My real endorsement: A student advisory board, made up of student leaders from both highschools and LMSDs three middle schools, with the power to shape LM district policy. Official channels for representing students would allow those with the most expertise and the most at stake to push for policies they support. Student activists are quick to argue that months of conflict over Oakwell Forest could’ve been avoided by surveying the student body, and our school districts will never be able to properly address incidents of racism and bigotry within schools without input from the students actually affected. 

Bodies like the Principal’s Advisory Council and the two non-voting student representatives currently present at school board meetings claim to meet the need for student voice, the only real power that students have now is the ability to push for the election of new board candidates. This is a power students must use, and that should be used to elect candidates willing to make needed reforms. 

To learn more about the candidates, watch the school board candidate forum at youtu.be/TZh3_Ml0ixA or visit the democratic candidate campaign website at leadinglmsdforward.com.

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