Newly Elected SSC President Seeks to Empower Students to Better GDS

Aidan Kohn-Murphy, who was elected this month to be next school year’s SSC president. Photo by Reid Alexander. 

On May 12, junior Joya Breinholt was first to stand at a podium in an empty Forum and present her vision for leadership of the Student Staff Council. Next, it was junior Aidan Kohn-Murphy’s turn. Donning a large bear hat to start, he outlined his own plan for SSC. The two candidates fielded questions posed by students who were watching the assembly on Zoom from home. It was then in the hands of the student body to elect its SSC president for the 2021-2022 school year.

Two days later, the Google form votes tallied, Assistant Principal for School Life Quinn Killy announced that Kohn-Murphy had won the SSC presidential elections. Kohn-Murphy, who has served on SSC since he was a freshman, envisions expanding the role of GDS’ student government and its impacts on students’ lives.

“Everybody at SSC knows or perceives that everybody on the student body thinks that they don’t get anything done,” Killy told the Bit, ideas which Kohn-Murphy is eager to dispel during his term.

Kohn-Murphy described his ambitions for his SSC presidency in an interview with the Bit. “My goals are to fully realize the SUE plan,” he said, referring to the signature proposal, named after longtime history teacher Sue Ikenberry. “It stands for student empowerment, unification and beautification, and environmental sustainability.” 

His top priority for empowering students is to install a student representative on GDS’ Board of Trustees, who could offer a valuable, on-the-ground perspective. 

He said SSC has discussed the possibility of a student Board member for years but expects to meet “resistance” from trustees. Still, Kohn-Murphy plans to contact some Board members and is optimistic that his goal is possible.

Killy voiced support for Kohn-Murphy’s proposal for a student representative on the Board but said he has “very little impact or connection” with GDS’ high-level governing body.

But Board Chair Lisa Fairfax demurred when asked about the idea in an interview with the Bit this year, citing the need for confidentiality about the material Board members see. “Since the Board is all about governance,” she said, “most of the student engagement has to be with the administrators.”

Even beyond the Board, Kohn-Murphy said, “I want to get more student input in administrative decisions and I think that’s a role that the president and vice president could play.” 

Another of Kohn-Murphy’s aims is to unify the student body and beautify the campus. He envisions organizing a day dedicated to those two goals during which students would work together on “painting murals around the school, reviving GDS gardens and implementing green spaces,” he said.

For environmental sustainability, he hopes to engage students in designing “long-term plans to minimize GDS’ environmental footprint.”

Of the six student voters interviewed by the Bit, one had not voted in the election. Several said they choose whom to vote for based mostly on personal connections or impressions. 

Junior Pallavi Bhargava voted for Kohn-Murphy. “He was very personable and if I had a concern I would definitely be able to come to him,” Bhargava said. “I also liked his SUE plan and that he was very organized and kind of had his priorities in order.”

Freshman Rand Poellnitz disclosed that his vote went to Breinholt. “I thought she brought a lot to the table and would have made a great president,” Poellnitz said, adding, “They were both very qualified candidates and both could and can make really significant changes.”

Breinholt told the Bit that she expects Kohn-Murphy “is going to be a great president.” She, too, recognized that SSC has a “reputation for not being super effective.”

The two candidates agreed on almost every item in their respective agendas, none more so than the need for reforms to SSC’s charter to make it fit the current practices of SSC.

According to Breinholt, the charter requires “a certain number of reps for voting that we never have.” As a result, she said, “we end up not being able to vote on a lot of things, which is extremely frustrating.” In their speeches, both candidates shared plans to enact charter reform.

Kohn-Murphy said that his main objective for his presidency is to broaden the aspirations of the SSC. “What I want for my leadership and for SSC next year is to—this sounds simple—but to be effective,” he said. “To me, there’s nothing wrong with thinking big.”

Nico David-Fox contributed reporting.

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