Giving students a voice in school
North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kirsten Baesler, plans to assemble a student cabinet, drawn from elementary, middle and high school students, to provide a student perspective on policy issues.
“I’ve always been very grateful to the people of North Dakota who voted for me and have allowed me to have this position,” Baesler said. “But the group of people who motivate me to come to work every day are those people that can’t even vote, because they’re not 18 yet.”
Baesler, who is a former classroom teacher, vice principal and school board member, said she has worked with student councils during her education career. They offer valuable insight into the education system and how their school is run, Baesler said.
As Baesler envisions it, the student cabinet will be made up of 12 to 18 members, and will include elementary, middle and high school students. It will focus on getting student opinions about policies the Department of Public Instruction and the Legislature are considering, as well as learning about what issues students think are important.
Students as young as nine or 10 years old – third- and fourth-graders – can give useful opinions on education proposals, she said.
“They tell us what they think works – not just what they want to make their school lives better, but what they think they’ll need when they want to become that astronaut that they dream about becoming, or that veterinarian that helps large animals and small animals that they’re so in love with at that age,” Baesler said. “They’re beginning to understand the structure of their elementary school setting … and they really do understand how things begin connecting.”
Baesler plans to consult administrators within her department on their ideas of how the cabinet should be made up and how often it should meet. Baesler believes it should meet in the fall and spring, with spring meetings in legislative years held after the session ends.
“There are students in our North Dakota schools that we are working for, and it is those people that I need to advocate for,” Baesler said. “I need to have their voice heard.”