Students Model School Board Procedures, Express Views on District Policy

School will start at 9 AM next year. The Wauwatosa Mock School Board voted 5-4 to start school at 9:00 AM instead of the current start time of 8:00 AM.  The decision was made at the annual student meeting held at the district Fisher Building on the evening of April 9th.

“In the past I have referred to many conversations relating to the discussion that took place during the mock school board meetings but the reality is that it is a ‘mock’ school board” says Superintendent Phil Ertl about the decision.

OK, maybe it wasn’t really true – the decisions of the mock school board don’t really apply- school will still start at 8 AM next year.

But, just because their decisions aren’t really adopted by the school district, doesn’t mean students didn’t learn how the school board operates.

“Participating in the mock school board was a very interesting experience,” says Colin Bartelme, who was on the board. “I really got a look into the mechanics of how the district runs its school board meeting and an idea of the sort of content that is discussed. I personally learned how structured and organized a school board meeting is.”

Nineteen juniors from East and West met in the Fisher Building to discuss various issues brought up by students, covering a range of subjects. This event, known as the Mock School Board, mimics the actual Wauwatosa School District School Board.

Each student involved acted like a person in their particular position (e.g. superintendent, principal, director of student learning). The four topics of discussion were the advantages of establishing a start time one hour later, the elimination of finals week, the presence of a student representative when hiring new teachers, and the use of natural cleaning products during the upkeep of schools.

“The discussion topics are selected in a process that starts with ideas from students in APP (American Public Policy),” explains Youth Commission adult chairperson Sam Benedict.  “Then we share the ideas with the WYC committee members. The final list is selected after I discuss with Laura Wainscott from the school district. We try to pick issues that are current and that we have not done before.”

For students participating, the time served as an invaluable learning experience about the workings and policies of official meetings for all those who participated.

“Participating in the Mock School Board had been my only experience of what the school board does,” says Alec Kirtley, who acted as a school board member. “I think there is a lack of knowledge among students of the district about what the board does and is responsible for.”

“I learned a ton while participating on Mock School Board,” says Caleb Boldt, who was School Board President for the evening. “I noticed that they consider all aspects of the district, not just education.”

Prior to the meeting, school board directors conducted research into their topics and came prepared with a presentation to inform the school board and anyone listening in the public audience about the policy they wanted to change. Next, there was a question-and-answer session, and afterwards, the board decided if they should adopt the policy.

The Q&A time includes a section for public commenting. Members of the audience are encouraged to come up to the microphone and offer their opinions during this time. Sam Benedict says that when audience members come up, “it makes the meeting much more interesting.”

Colin Bartelme acted as the Director of Business Services. “What was intriguing to me,” he says, “was how they decide whether or not to adopt a policy. It was an extremely democratic process. Once the director was done presenting and all the questions and comments were asked, the board members simply voted on whether or not the policy should be adopted.”

The policy for a later start time carried with a vote of 5-4, the policy of eliminating finals week failed with a vote of 2-7, the policy of having a student representative while hiring teachers carried unanimously, and the policy of using natural cleaning agents carried with a vote of 8-1.

“I was split on most topics,” reports Boldt, “but the two I agreed with most are having a student sit in on hiring committees and using environmentally friendly cleaning products…it’s nice to take in the opinion of a student when hiring someone who will be instructing their peers.”

Sarah Lau, acting as secretary, was not allowed to vote. “I would disagree with all the issues except the non-chemical cleaning products.” she explains. “I think that finals week provides a good break in the school year. [Earlier] start times would push back extracurricular activities much later, and having students on hiring committees…would have too much bias involved.”

The Mock School Board, run by the Wauwatosa Youth Commission, has run for over 10 years and is recommended to juniors in American Public Policy classes.