The Student Staff Council last month abandoned its effort to add a student representative to the GDS Board of Trustees after the Board chair told SSC members that, due to the secrecy of the Board’s work, the council’s goal was not feasible.
In a summary of its Jan. 10 meeting that SSC sent to high school students that night, the body announced that the task force concentrating on getting a student on the Board would switch to another issue.
Senior Aidan Kohn-Murphy, the SSC president, told the Bit that the decision came after a meeting on Dec. 3 between Board Chair Lisa Fairfax and students on the task force. He said that there has been interest for years among high schoolers to pursue a student Board seat, but the council had to halt its efforts.
“The Board deals with a lot of big-picture issues,” including fundraising, Kohn-Murphy said, “so I think there were some concerns about confidentiality.”
Sophomore Rand Poellnitz, SSC’s secretary, said in an interview, “I don’t think the Board was comfortable with having a student representative.” Freshman representative Koen Yu confirmed Fairfax’s message.
When campaigning near the end of last school year, one of Kohn-Murphy’s priorities was to place a student representative on the Board.
But GDS’ by-laws, the school’s governing document, which organizes the Board, state that only people who are 21 or older are eligible to be trustees. The purpose of the Board is to ensure the school’s financial sustainability, evaluate its budget, help administrators with long-term planning and assess present issues such as the school’s response to the pandemic or its anti-racism initiative.
No D.C. private school in the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington has a student representative on its board, according to online research by The Augur Bit. However, in Montgomery County, Maryland, there is a student member of the Board of Education.
Assistant Principal for School Life Quinn Killy said in an interview that, when they began the effort, SSC members had not understood exactly what Board meetings involved. Contrary to some members’ prior impressions, he said, the Board has very little control over day-to-day operations.
Kohn-Murphy said he understands Fairfax’s reasoning but stopped short of saying he no longer supports the idea of a student Board seat. “There are a lot of things that the Board handles where student input is not crucial,” he said.
Kohn-Murphy plans to continue advocating for clear communication between SSC and the Board—particularly as SSC has not met with the entire Board since 2020 due to COVID-19. “What we are still pursuing is reestablishing a relationship with the Board so we can continue to foster it in the future,” he said.
SSC members will present to the Board on Feb. 7 to update the trustees on the student body. According to Kohn-Murphy, the Board-focused task force also hopes to use the meeting to facilitate consistent communication between the Board and SSC about high school student life.
Junior Daria Kabiri and sophomore Madi McDaniel, the task force’s two other members, declined to comment for this article.
Four students interviewed by the Bit were not previously aware of the decision to abandon putting a student on the Board of Trustees. “This decision does not affect me much,” sophomore Curan Palmer said.
Sophomore Charles Hatton agreed, saying he is glad that SSC does not have a representative on the Board. “Kids shouldn’t have to worry about creating a safe space for themselves,” he added, since trustees and administrators should oversee the school environment.
Freshman Evelyn Chen, however, would prefer having a student representative on the Board. “It was surprising considering that this is GDS and that GDS is all about hearing students’ voices,” Chen said of Fairfax’s opposition.
Lauren Dickert, GDS’ chief of staff and a liaison between the board and the administration, declined to comment, saying that she was unaware of SSC’s effort.
Attempts to get a student on the board are not new to SSC. “It comes up every couple of years as a question,” Killy said. “While a student on the board may not be viable, this SSC has made important steps toward creating the right channels of communication.”