UnifiEd Student Voice Team

Based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the UnifiEd Student Voice Team has been advocating for school transformation since 2014. Focused on improving K-12 learning in Hamilton County, students have worked with parents, school board members, educators and others to affect classrooms, create school programs, and drive policy change affecting thousands of learners.

Action and Outcomes

Student-created surveys were developed and administered by the Student Voice Team to over 450 Hamilton County high school students in the 2018-19 school year. These showed that students’ top priority for school improvement was in the area of mental health.

For instance, during the summer of 2019 the UnifiEd Student Voice Team researched how to implement best practices in mental health in Hamilton County Schools. At the beginning of the school year, the students’ advocacy resulted in the creation of a student support center in a local school.

In 2001, the Hamilton County School Board added a student member to their board. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, students from UnifiEd’s training programs Student Voice Team joined the board, ensuring student voice was empowered and capable of positively impacting district policy-making. Before then, the Student Voice Team worked with the school board attorney to update the system-wide bullying and harassment policy.

Approximately 30 high school students from across HCDE have been trained as organizers within their schools by UnifiEd staff.

Student Voice Team member at STEM School successfully advocated for the adoption of bylaws for its Student Support Senate to clarify the group’s role and bring awareness of its purpose to more students.

Students were a significant portion of respondents to the APEX equity survey, which identified the most urgent inequities in our schools and informed the work being undertaken by APEX Action Teams.

After the Student Voice Team successfully implemented a student Principal Advisory Council at Lookout Valley Middle and High School, students continued working on implementing Principal Advisory Councils in other Hamilton County High Schools, too.

Through the years, the UnifiEd Student Voice Team impacted individual schools and the district, making student voice a driving force for school improvement throughout Chattanooga and beyond.

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Students on School Boards Toolbox

Students on School Boards in Tennessee

Here are facts about students on school boards  in Tennessee.

District School Boards

  • Students in Tennessee can join district and state school boards. Selection methods vary according to district.
  • Students cannot vote on district school boards but can vote on the state school board.

State Board of Education

  • There is one student advisor to the Tennessee State Board of Education.
  • This student has full voting rights.
  • The student advisor is selected by the Governor of Tennessee.
  • Student advisors may be in the 11th or 12th grade.
  • They serve one year terms.
  • This role has been in place since 1984.
  • The Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 49-1-301 requires the Governor of Tennessee to appoint one public high school student to the State Board of Education.
  • Law: The law states that “The high school student shall be of superlative standing and shall serve for a one-year term in an ex officio capacity.  The student member shall be appointed each year from nominees chosen by the local board of education in each school system at each board’s discretion, with no more than one student from each school system being nominated, and with the students having reached their junior or senior year in high school.”
  • Student Board members are granted full voting rights and are eligible for appropriate state reimbursement.
  • Each year, the Governor of Tennessee requests that each local school board nominate a student to serve on the State Board of Education.
  • There is not a formal application process.
  • However, local school boards are asked to submit a letter of recommendation and a resume for their nominee.
  • After reviewing each nominee, the Governor then appoints the student Board Member.
  • Generally, the Governor attempts to alternate the region from which the student is selected between East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee.
  • Past student board members have typically had a 4.0 GPA and above.

Tennessee School Board Association

  • They are not formal members of the state school board association, and do not receive specific training to support their involvement.
  • Student representatives are invited to all of the state school board association’s seminars and workshops.

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