By Josh Klein, Upper School Dean of Students and Student Government Advisor
In retrospect, the theme song to The West Wing was the right call. It did cross our minds to have the Upper School students proceed into the auditorium to a Les Miserables’ revolutionary anthem, given that we had just reconstructed the entire student government and that we were soon to hold our first round of elections. However, it turned out best that we set the stage with thoughts of President Bartlet rather than of guillotines for our candidates.
So, how did we get here — to a near-wholesale rethinking of the Upper School’s long-standing student government structure? It all started with the student government asking itself some challenging, existential questions. Why are we here? Are we fulfilling our purpose? Should we continue to exist in our current structure? (Sartre would have been proud of these students.)
Adding impetus to the discussion was the pressing question of whether to incorporate a new environmental chair to the executive board of student government. What came of these months-long discussions was a brand-new and innovative organization of positions. Gone were the days of the “President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer model.”
Instead, a new array of committees was formed to answer the specific needs of the student body and to provide an institutionalized voice for a variety of students. This structure held on to the positions of president and treasurer, but then added the following committees:
Student Organization and Leadership Development (SOLD): in charge of running the student club system and providing leadership training opportunities for club leaders and participants
Spirit Committee: in charge of rallying the student voice at sports games and performing arts events and organizing spirit week
Sustainability Committee: in charge of crafting and implementing community-wide plans to reduce Durham Academy’s carbon footprint
Student Life Advisory Board (SLAB): in charge of providing feedback on student life policies and interfacing with the faculty Student Life Committee
Student Academic Committee: in charge of providing feedback on the student academic experience and interfacing with the faculty Academic Committee
Social Events Committee: in charge of organizing opportunities for Upper School students to socialize and have a good time
Each of these committees will be led by an elected chair who will serve on the student government executive board (along with the President and Treasurer). The resulting structure will be one in which each committee will have a specific mission to uphold and, thanks to executive board meetings, in which each committee will be able to coordinate with other committees in executing an event.
In addition to being guided by specific missions, each of these committees will provide an opportunity for more students to learn, practice and observe leadership. In fact, one of the explicit duties of each committee chair is to empower the younger members of the group by delegating responsibilities to them. With the ongoing counsel of the SOLD Committee, this new structure will provide specific tools to students on how to both lead and be a contributing member of a group.
Helping to lead the change was senior Jack Anderson, student body president for the 2018–2019 school year.
“What’s most exciting to me about these changes are the leadership opportunities they create for students,” Anderson explained. “As a student government, it’s our job to give students opportunities to take ownership of their school, and this new structure is going to help that happen.”
It will be really exciting to witness the directions in which the students take this new model of student government. If the polished, substantive and engaging election speeches are any indication, we are certainly bound for some great achievements.