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Elections Demand Youth Action in Politics

Illustration by Mia Turner

With Vote16’s Measure Y1 passed and on its way to implementation in Berkeley, the door is opening for students to take action in local politics, whether that be by voting for school board members, attending community forums, or even participating in the selection process for Superintendent. It is vital that students, starting in high school, begin to pay attention and take action surrounding politics.

While it is admirable and important to be involved with national issues, students can make significant change in their local governments, as illustrated repeatedly by teenagers across the nation. The Superintendent elections incorporate significant community involvement, and the work of the Superintendent directly affects all Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) students, so it is imperative that high school students are involved with selecting future Superintendents.

The Superintendent position is extremely impactful, and many students don’t realize that they can influence the selection if they advocate and take action. Living in Berkeley, teenagers are lucky in that they have a community that uplifts and encourages them to be outspoken and passionate about important issues. Berkeley has historically set a precedent for youth activism, so why stop with the school board?

The Superintendent makes decisions for the district in collaboration with the school board about things including managing staff and budgets. According to School Board Director Ty Alper, when a new Superintendent is required, a search firm is hired by the city to publicize the search and recruit possible candidates. Then, the school board hosts meetings with community groups to learn what the citizens of Berkeley want from their Superintendent, as well as conducting interviews of candidates facilitated by school board members and other community influencers. There are ways for students to be involved at multiple stages of the process, and while the two student representatives on the school board only get an advisory vote, which doesn’t count, they participate and witness the process.

Student involvement in Superintendent selection has happened to an extent in the past, but there has rarely been widespread student community involvement. Students should know when a new Superintendent is being chosen, and they should be educated about the process and how they can get involved if they choose to.

This could mean attending a School Board meeting and discussing what traits should be looked for, what platforms are most compelling, or anything else students decide is necessary in a Superintendent who will not only reflect the values of Berkeley adults, but also Berkeley students. Progress inherently includes youth involvement in politics, and while the right to vote for school board candidates is a significant accomplishment for Berkeley teenagers, it is absolutely necessary for teens to take action in other local politics, especially the selection of a new Superintendent.