Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Student Advisory Board

The Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Student Advisory Board was created to include student voice and perspectives in statewide education policy decisions. Additionally, including student voice at the local level is a critical component of the mission of Graduation Matters Montana.

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Barriers to School Transformation

SoundOut Summer Camp
Students at the 2015 SoundOut Summer Camp addressed barriers to their engagement in school transformation.


For as long as there have been public schools, there have been calls for school reform, education improvement and other changes. The entire time, there have been many things that have stopped these changes from happening, sometimes positive and other times challenging. There are many barriers to school transformation through Meaningful Student Involvement, student voice and student engagement, too.

Ultimately, barriers to school transformation through Meaningful Student Involvement don’t simply affect Meaningful Student Involvement. As an approach to transforming schools, Meaningful Student Involvement seeks to help all students become more successful in education. When Meaningful Student Involvement fails, students are further challenged. That’s why its vital to address them head-on by naming what they are, finding alternatives and successes that happen in spite of these challenges.

Types of Barriers

Overcoming Barriers

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Mississippi State Superintendent Advisory Committee

From 1998 through 2002, the Mississippi State Superintendent Advisory Committee included 23 students. With student advisors in grades 10 through 12 grades, they served two year terms.

Each year, the State Superintendent requested that each member of his Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, composed of 23 public school superintendents, selected a student member to serve on the State Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee.

The group was informal and met periodically with the State Superintendent to discuss education issues in the state. The State Superintendent of Education voluntarily sought this student voice. There was no legislation in Mississippi mandating student input.

Students were eligible for appropriate state reimbursement.

The State Superintendent of Education requested diverse candidates, and efforts were made to include students who are not always presented with honors or awards.

Members included students from vocational organizations (FFA, FBLA, etc.), students with varying GPA’s, and students from varying gender and racial categories.

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North Carolina Task Force on Student Involvement

The North Carolina State Dept. of Public Instruction Task Force on Student Involvement was a sixteen-member committee appointed by N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction A. Craig Phillips for a one-year term of service. Their common goal was to promote positive, constructive student involvement in education throughout North Carolina.


The Task Force was founded by the State Superintendent to improve race relations between students and educators. After that, their participation was expanded to include most general areas of public education. Members served on curriculum advisory committees and accreditation teams; conducted surveys of student needs; participated in human relations and other in-service training programs; and promoted programs designed to improve the welfare of students.


The Task Force was headed by a student director, a high school senior and a part-time state employee, all working with a full-time adult director. Student members were:

  • Geographically distributed across the state
  • Reflected different racial, social, economic, and academic backgrounds
  • Acted as a student voice to the State Department of Public Instruction
  • Sought areas where student input would be effective, such as on school accreditation teams, conferences and teacher workshops, and curriculum evaluation committees
  • Visited schools upon request to discuss different aspects of student involvement
  • Listened to students’ and administrators’ ideas
  • Helped students and educators work together to derive solutions to their own problems of apathy and unrest

Locally, student members were involved in many school and community activities, and the Task Force supported student-oriented and student-run programs across the state.

The Task Force also acted as a clearinghouse for student ideas on varied subjects, such as ecology, drugs, human relations, and curriculum, and transmits them to administrators, state officials, and other students.

These activities were all directed toward spurring other students in the state to become constructively involved in their schools and communities.


The Task Force wrote a number of reports focused on students and educators working together to take responsibility for solving their educational problems. Their findings covered general administrative policies, attitudes and actions of educators; attitudes and actions of students; extracurricular activities, student councils, human relations, and sensitive areas, including student elections for cheerleaders and prom queens, and curriculum.

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How Decisions Are Made In School

Pulling Back the Curtains A Basic Guide to Education Through the Lenses of Meaningful Student Involvement

Getting clear on who is involved in schools is not easy. We need to understand how decisions are made in schools. In order to affect schools, you can build your understanding of how decision-making in schools works.

The following positions represent as the typical “flow” of decision-making affecting students in public schools. Different people may exert different kinds of influence in every decision. Each person is not guaranteed a place “at the table” (most here often are excluded). Following is a summary of everyone who might be involved.

Each of these roles can include student voice; few currently involve students in meaningful ways. Following are descriptions of each role, and how Meaningful Student Involvement can happen with them.

Roles That Can Benefit From Student Voice

Students—All students everywhere, in every grade and every school, should experience Meaningful Student Involvement every day. Individual students determine whether they’re meaningfully involved. You are in ultimately in charge of your own education because you can actively choose whether or not you are going to actively participate and learn in schools.

Peers—Younger and older students actively and passively influence other students’ decision-making. This can be meaningful if its done intentionally to make schools better.

Student Leaders—Many schools have active programs that draw out “traditional student leaders” by identifying certain skills or abilities students have. Despite having a range of abilities, these student leaders are mostly focused on activities that affect students only. However, a growing number of student leaders have an increasing amount of ability toaffect the whole education system. There are also “nontraditional” student leaders whose influence over their peers’ decision-making has not been acknowledged in school.

Parents—Guiding children is one of the most important jobs of parents; this is especially true in schools. Parents can also passively or actively decision-making.

School Support Staff/Paraprofessionals/Adult Volunteers—Secretaries, adult tutors, coaches, librarians, classroom assistants, and parent representatives may influence student decision-making. Paraprofessionals are people who are hired to work in schools to help students and teachers be successful.

Teachers—Everyday students are subjected to a range of decisions made by teachers about grading, curriculum, behavior management, and relationships with students. Teachers are also responsible for executing others’ decisions.

Teacher Leaders—Among the faculty at a school are teachers whose experience, knowledge, or influence gives them ability, authority, or position to make decisions for other teachers. These teachers may lead grade-level or curriculum areas, participate on special committees, or influence decision-making in other ways.

Counselors—Students often go to counselors to ask questions, seek advice, and talk to when they need a supportive adult in school. While they often guide student decision-making with classes or life after high school, counselors may also help students make decisions about life in general.

Assistant Principal—Many schools principals need assistants to guide behavior management, budgeting, staff supervision, curriculum, and other areas. They affect students by doling out punishments and rewards; guiding student activities; and in other ways.

Principal/HeadMaster—The commonly acknowledged “leader” of a school is responsible for most areas of school operations, including many of the assistant principal roles listed above. They also publicly represent the school; mediate conflicts among students, staff, parents, and community members; and interact with district, state, and federal authorities.

District Administration—Officials on the district level administer programs, funds, rules and regulations given to them by their superiors. In some states districts are simply counties (Maryland) or large regions. New York City has more than 10 districts. District offices may also be known as a local education agency, or LEA.

District Superintendent—The leader of a given area or group of schools, superintendents are often the first elected official in the chain of decision-making affecting students. Sometimes they are appointed by the district school board or city mayor. They act as the figurehead and authority of all education-related issues within their physical area of authority.

District School Board—These elected officials get recommendations from the public and the superintendent to deliver their range of decision-making authority. They set the budget and agenda of schools, assign students to schools, make rules and policies, set learning standards, and more.

Regional Administration—These are in-between organizations that may offer professional development, administrative guidance, or funding to districts and local schools. These offices have different names, including Educational Service Districts (Washington); BOCEs (New York); or Regional Service Centers (Texas).

State Administration—These officials are responsible for administering federal and state programs designed to meet the goals of schools. Also known as the state education agency or department of education. In several states this is the Office of Superintendent of Public Administration.

State Education Leader—The state education leader may be elected or appointed; they may also work equally with the state school board and governor, or independently. They are responsible for guiding the implementation of the rules, regulations, laws, budgets, and programs of the state legislature; in some states, the governor; and the federal government. This person may be called the Chief Education Officer, or the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI).

State School Board—An elected group of officials that overseas all schools and ensures the state’s adherence to federal rules and regulations. Students can be meaningfully involved as full voting members elected by their peers are responsible for a full slate of activities, issues, and outcomes.

Governor/State Legislature/State Supreme Court—The state-level officials who are responsible for setting state priorities and funding for education, as well as ensuring local, state, and federal compliance with education laws.

U.S. Secretary of Education—The individual official responsible for setting and implementing the President’s education agenda. The leader of the U.S. Department of Education.

U.S. Department of Education—The federal agency responsible for administering the budgets, rules, and regulations of the Secretary of Education and the Congress.

U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators—Elected officials responsible for setting the President’s educational policy recommendations into motion, in addition to supplementing their states’ policy with additional funding.

U.S. Supreme Court Justices—These individuals are appointed to make sure schools comply with the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

U.S. President—The elected official responsible for setting national educational priorities affecting all public schools.

These are the people who are currently affected by student voice, and who should be partners through Meaningful Student Involvement.

What do you think? Share your comments below!

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