BAR HARBOR — Sarah Knox and Liam Sullivan are breaking new ground as the first students on the Mount Desert Island High School board.
The board decided last year to add two students as non-voting members. After a few students expressed interest, Principal Matt Haney nominated Knox, a sophomore who lives in Mount Desert; and Sullivan, a Bar Harbor senior.
The new board members took their seats in September.
Although they can’t vote, they often take part in discussions and express their opinions.
“I think I give quite a bit of input on student life, and I think I’ve generally been pretty useful in discussions that involve students,” Knox said. “I spend a lot of time talking about how students feel about issues, from the culture in the cafeteria to how students feel safe in the school.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide student input on a more legit level…instead of just going to the administration when they’re a problem,” she said of her reason for wanting to be on the school board. “It’s a great way to provide a student view of things.”
Sullivan agreed that representing students on the school board is important.
“But representing the faculty to the students is important as well,” he said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to take advantage of the incredible resources we have here … and I see a disconnect between what is available [to students] and what is taken advantage of
“My vision is that Sarah and I serve as a conduit,” he continued, “working from the faculty back toward the students to say, ‘We’re here; we want to help you; we want to make this experience as empowering as it can be. How can we make that happen?’”
Both students said they feel the adult, elected members of the school board take them seriously. Sullivan said he already knew quite a few board members.
Knox said she didn’t know as many. “But I have been able to hold good conversations with a lot of them, and that’s useful because it makes a lot of connections in the community.”
Haney said the voting members of the school board definitely take the student members seriously.
“With that comes a big responsibility, so they have to remember that they’re not speaking for themselves exclusively; they’re speaking for a large body of people.”
Haney said that adding students to the school board has been a positive step.
“It’s really important that the adults understand the students and that the students understand the adults,” he said. “That’s a tricky balance, and it takes a pretty mature individual to be able to do that. These two are both fitting that description.”
Ingrid Kachmar, chairman of the high school board, said it’s important to have the students’ perspective.
“Their insights are different from ours or the administrators’ and they have good input into the conversation,” she said, adding that neither Knox nor Sullivan has been shy about speaking up in board meetings.
“Both of them are very comfortable in that setting, which is not the case for a lot of students that age.
“I think we as a school district have always tried to make sure we listen to the student voice,” she continued. “This just lets us do it in a more structured manner.”
Haney noted that, along with adopting an annual budget, one of the school board’s primary roles is setting policies.
“When we get to policy decisions … I think your voices will be really important in that,” he told the student board members.
Sullivan said he sees “substance use” as perhaps the biggest problem the school needs to deal with.
“I don’t know how to address that, but that to me is the most upfront issue that I would like to address, to try to find solutions,” he said.
Knox said that, at the moment, she doesn’t know of any policies she would like to change.
“But I can imagine that if things were brought up, I would definitely have opinions on them,” she said. “I think Liam and I could probably be doing a better job of coming up with things to bring up at the meetings instead of waiting to give our opinion once things come up.”