When the Knox County school board meets today (6/10) at 5 p.m. in the AJ Building, the first agenda item is special recognition of Noah Kelley, 2019-20 Board of Education student representative.
It’s been a huge week for Noah. On Tuesday (6/9) he gave the commencement speech at the Karns High School graduation. He’s valedictorian of the Class of 2020. Oh, and he’s been class president for all years of high school and state president of the TSA (Technology Student Association). And he was drum major for the Karns High marching band, after his selection as an all-state performer on the bass clarinet and contra bass.
Noah is heading to Vanderbilt University this fall for a pre-med major in bio-chemistry and data science. So, he’s seeing eight years of classwork ahead before he starts clinical training in a medical specialty, such as cardiology or pediatrics.
Why in the world did a guy with this much going on choose to spend great chunks of his senior year sitting through school board meetings?
“It was a cool and weird experience,” he says.
He was attracted to the position when his good friend, Hannah Selph, was chosen as student board representative for the 2018-19 school year. “I’ve always been interested in public policy and education.”
Noah says the position is competitive. His replacement, Abigail Lee of the L&N STEM Academy, was chosen from a field of 17 applicants; he was selected from a field of some 20. “All of those applicants were very qualified. I was blessed to have been chosen.”
Right off he joined a school board that was debating PCD (that’s personal computer devices like tablets and phones, he translated).
“I was really adamant from the student perspective. We did not need stricter rules,” he says. “And we didn’t need the same rules for high school as elementary school.” Noah did his job; the students’ voices were heard.
He is amazed at the “phenomenal job” the Board of Education does, setting policy for a system with 60,000 students and 6,000-plus staff. He learned that communication is key and compromise is often necessary.
The current board has advanced good communication, but it can be better, he says. “The pandemic has been an eye-opener.” The school system must be better prepared for a future shutdown.
Noah “wouldn’t say no” to a future in politics, but says it’s not his first priority.
Noah Kelley is definitely ready for Vanderbilt. But is Vandy ready for Noah? Stay tuned.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of KnoxTNToday.com