A dozen high school students were just sent to the superintendent’s office in Escambia County. But it wasn’t due to a disciplinary problem. It was because they’re the best and brightest the school system has to offer. With many ideas on how to improve things in the classroom, they’re part of the new Student Advisory Council, acting as a liaison between students and the superintendent.

The three-hour roundtable discussion and lunch hosted by Superintendent Michele McClung, along with Attendant Supervisor and incoming Escambia High School Principal Kike Pettaway, is a program designed to get feedback from students on just about everything, from academics to the lunchroom. McClung said the students’ point of view is a valuable one.

“I want to get perspective from everyone; that’s why I formed the Student Advisory Council to get input from the students,” McClung said. “The sole purpose is to improve the school system.”

The principal and counselor from each of the county’s three high schools chose four students to participate in this new venture. They were each asked to fill out a survey before the meeting, asking for their ideas on areas of improvement, things they would like to see changed and their biggest challenges. After an opening discussion about the things they wanted, including the new StreamVu video system, which enables students to handle daily announcements, Pettaway divided them into four groups, with each group having a representative from the three schools. McClung asked them to list the qualities they would have in a perfect school system.

There were a few common denominators among the groups. One was a big surprise.

Students want more math.

Specifically, they all agreed there is not enough preparation in this subject for the ACT. One student who had taken the test said, “I wish we would have had more focus on math. Two weeks was not enough.” Another echoed the sentiment. “We only prepped for a few weeks before the test. There was more focus on reading and vocabulary. We need more math.” McClung agreed that preparing for college placement exams should be a year-long practice.

Students had a suggestion for the week before graduation: since the top 10 are already selected while graduation practice along with other graduation-related activities are underway during the week of finals, final exams for regular courses for seniors should be optional, depending on academic status.

Students were unanimous in their dislike of uniforms, but teachers agree that having students wear them cuts down on disciplinary issues. McClung said there’s also a safety element.

“If there’s someone in the school who’s not supposed to be there, they’re not going to be in a uniform and will stick out like a sore thumb,” said McClung.

The superintendent took so many notes during the session she said, “I’m going to need another pad.”

There were small problems that are easily fixable, like vending machines that often fail to work and reserved parking lots that are unused.

Overall, it was an incredibly positive experience for the students and a bit of an eye-opening one for the superintendent as she got an up-close and personal look that could only come from a student’s point of view. The students were all happy to know that their opinions were valued. One was thrilled with the opportunity to share ideas with those in charge: “I was surprised to be invited. I’m really appreciative. I love that they’re listening to the students instead of just the teachers.”

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