Changing the boundaries for school attendance is one of Jessica Miller's goals when she becomes the new student representative on the Fairfax County School Board. A junior at Centreville High, Jessica will replace student Samantha Kunkel on the board in July.
She has friends who live nearby Centreville High but have to drive up to 25 minutes away to attend Fairfax High School.
"THERE'S A lot of things I love about the county but there's a lot I'd like to see changed, so I thought this would be a great opportunity," Jessica said. She also mentioned her interest in student leadership and the fact she has been in the school system since kindergarten as factors that led her to seek the position.
In May the student-elected Student Advisory Council elected Jessica to the one-year position.
Jessica is "pretty unusual in that she's pretty comfortable talking with anyone," her father Kent Miller said. "So she'll be comfortable with the adults.... I think she's been a natural for student government."
The School Board, which meets every other week in Falls Church, has had a nonvoting student representative on it for 36 years.
About the student representative, board member Kathy Smith said, "I think it's a vital piece of what we do." The student representative shares information with the Student Advisory Council and assists the county's superintendent of schools, Smith said.
Samantha talked about her position by saying, "It's been really interesting. It's been a lot of fun.... Unfortunately, it only goes to one student."
Samantha said she has advised the board in its discussions about shifting high school starting times to later in the morning.
Jessica hopes to change the school system's policies in several areas.
SHE WANTS to change school boundaries to let students attend closer schools and to alleviate school overcrowding. "Westfield High School I hear is way overcrowded," Jessica said.
On another topic, Jessica said she wanted to improve the quality of Advanced Placement instruction. Some of the teachers are first year teachers who are not prepared to teach A.P. classes, she said.
On a third topic, the times high schools start should be pushed back in the morning, Jessica said. Currently they start around 7:25 a.m.
Jessica also wants to find a way for students to more easily take career-specific courses. Currently, these courses are being offered at Chantilly High School. Students at other high schools who want to take these courses must give up a period of time for transportation.
Finally, Jessica is concerned the federal No Child Left Behind Act is leading teachers to focus on teaching Virginia Standards of Learning benchmarks to the exclusion of teaching other important information and learning techniques.
Asked if she thought the board's student representative should be given a vote, Jessica had mixed thoughts. It would be good for students to have more power, she said. However, student representatives would have conflicts-of-interest about some of the board's topics. And board members have more knowledge about many educational issues than students do.
AS THE BOARD operates now, it systematically seeks the student representative's input when it considers issues, Jessica said.
In the coming year Jessica will visit the county's middle and high schools to make students aware that there is a student representative on the board.
When she becomes a representative the school system will give her an e-mail address and a phone number for students to contact her. Until then students can leave messages for her at Centreville High School, 703-802-5400.