If you’re a student, it pays to be on this district’s school board

Over the years, education leaders have slowly adopted new leadership philosophies that invite the student voice into the decision-making process. Since the pandemic, implementing solutions that reflect the pulse of the student body has never been more important. That’s why this district became the first in the Coachella Valley to elect students to its school board—and they’re getting paid.

Home to more than 20,000 students, the Palm Springs Unified School District rests on the western side of the valley. More than 90% of its students come from underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged families. However, it’s a district whose student body actively engages and collaborates with its leadership as they take advantage of the many leadership opportunities given to them, one of which is the ability to serve as a board member.

In April, the district announced it’d be paying its five student board members a stipend of nearly $300 a month for attending meetings. The idea was first brought up by board member Sergio Espericueta after the adoption of a new state law, Assembly Bill 275, which amended California’s education code.

“I was right there with him,” says Superintendent Tony Signoret. “This was a brilliant idea.”

The amendment allows school districts to award compensation and/or course credit to its student board members. Signoret says the students, who are selected through an election process by their peers, can comment on anything that’s on the board agenda, though they only have preferential voting rights.

“They can comment on any topic on the agenda other than anything that’s personnel, legal or confidential-related,” he explains. “That’s the only aspect where they don’t participate.”

Elevating voices

Each student board member is part of its Associated Student Body (ASB), a leadership group that represents and advocates for their peers. To ensure their decisions accurately reflect the needs of their student body, the board requires its student members to provide reports.

“Every session where there’s a student board member, they provide a report on what’s going on on their campus,” says Signoret. “They’ve also evolved into representing the feeder schools. The students have broadened their reports to include middle schools and elementaries that feed into their high schools.”

Oftentimes, the student board members’ ASB teams will be present at the board meeting as well to listen to their reports.

“It helps enlighten them in the process, too,” says Signoret.

Bringing students to the table isn’t just important for impactful decision-making, but it teaches students civic engagement and leadership at an early age.

“Our goal is to not only educate those kids who are student board members, but the student body as a whole that their voices can be heard, they can make a difference,” he says. “We encourage them to continue to be active in their communities moving forward. I think that is so important for our society as a whole.”