After Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials reported proudly on the conversion to online exams in middle and high school Tuesday, Saniye Wilson raised her hand.
Wilson – an 18-year-old Providence High senior, a digital native attending one of the district’s wired schools – said she had to add an observation: “Whenever a teacher tells us that our exam is going to be online, as exciting as the idea is, everyone in the class groans. Everyone writes all year on paper, so when the exam comes, students get really uncomfortable when they take their final assessments online.”
Board Chair Mary McCray relished the observation by her newest and youngest colleague: “She’s supporting her constituents.”
And Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes wryly noted that his children, who are also in high school, agree: “The data you’re providing triangulates with data I’m receiving at home.”
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In October, Wilson was chosen by representatives of all CMS high schools to take the first-ever seat at the dais as a non-voting student adviser to the board. Six months later, having held a front-row seat to marathon student assignment meetings and the arrival of a new superintendent, Wilson says she wouldn’t trade her “crazy year” for anything.
And board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart, who pushed to get the student voice represented, says she couldn’t have asked for a better pioneer: “She is bold and fearless and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She has challenged our thinking, which is always a good thing.”
As the school year wound to a close, Wilson provided a recap of what she’s seen and learned as the first student admitted to the inner circle of CMS.
Biggest lesson: Everything is more complicated than it seems. At her first board meeting, several angry public speakers questioned a CMS plan for Waddell Language Academy. Wilson thought her colleagues weren’t doing much to respond to their concerns, and told them as much.
They gently explained the process, including other points of view that weren’t aired at that session. “That was a ‘you don’t know everything’ moment,” Wilson recalls. “I realized there’s really tough decisions in public policy.”
Most inspiring person: Wilson says she was impressed by all the board members and many staff, but departing Superintendent Ann Clark tops the list. She watched Clark stay calm and take notes “even when people were screaming at her,” and marveled at Clark’s ability to answer detailed questions in the heat of the moment.
“I definitely was not prepared to meet such a great lady,” Wilson said.
Worst moment: Hearing Mecklenburg County commissioners berate CMS and board members at a joint meeting on bonds and the budget. “I hated to see adults disrespecting other hard-working adults,” she said. And yes, she let them know how she felt at the time, saying she was “a little blown away by the immaturity I’m seeing today.”
One thing she’d change if she had unlimited power: Increase the CMS budget, especially to raise teacher pay and hire more high school guidance counselors.
Secret to surviving long student assignment meetings: “I started drinking coffee.”
What’s next for Wilson: She graduates Monday, attends her final board meeting June 26 and heads to Appalachian State University in the fall. She plans to major in broadcasting and communication.
Who’s next on the school board: The superintendent’s student advisory council just elected Tiana Justice, a rising senior at eLearning Academy, to be their board member for 2017-18.
Wilson announced their decision to the board last week. And she’s working on a guidebook to help Justice learn from her experience.