When West High School senior Kinley Koontz joined the Knox County school board this summer, she began working to solve a problem.
The 10th student representative on the board, Koontz felt keenly a sense of separation that exists between students and that government body.
“Most kids don’t feel they have a role in their own education or that they have a voice. I want to bring this to them and empower students to be involved in the education system,” she said.
At her instigation, the board called for selection of a student representative at each of the 16 Knox County high schools to stay in touch with Koontz. To date, seven high schools – Halls, West, Farragut, Powell, Bearden, Central and L&N STEM Academy – have selected representatives. Koontz said she believes the others will have selected representatives by the Nov. 8 board meeting.
The selection process for school representatives mirrors the process by which Koontz was selected to the board – fill out a questionnaire, submit a resume, and write an essay. Each school makes its own selection and sends the name to Koontz. She plans to build personal relations with each via emails and text messages.
“Their main purpose is to serve as a communicator for me, and to give me a way to contact their students. I will be able to communicate with each representative about policies that impact them specifically. They can relay information to the board through me, and take information back to the students,” she said.
“I want them to have a voice and know it will be heard. I think it will encourage them to share their voice because it is easier speaking to one of their peers.”
Koontz visits schools to stay in touch and put a human face on board policy. When the school board debated removing “sexual orientation” and “actual or perceived gender” from anti-discrimination and harassment policies in September, Koontz spoke with Bearden High School’s Gay Straight Alliance representative at the October board meeting and passed on her contact information. She also met with the GSA at West High School.
“I knew they were concerned, and I wanted to make sure I heard their concerns directly,” she said.
Dr. John Bartlett, Bearden High School principal, gave her high marks.
“She is acting almost like an elected official. That is very important to students because it addresses their fears and brings about a free exchange of ideas.”
He praised her efforts to make sure student concerns are heard. “That is important in Knox County, where every school is different. We are a true metropolitan system, in that we have suburban, urban and rural schools. You need representation from all those demographics.”
Koontz, who transferred from Halls to West High School for the International Baccalaureate program, said she has been particularly interested in board discussions about IB, special education, and anti-discrimination policies and enforcement.
In the spring, she plans to have a public forum where all the representatives can meet to speak about issues. “They can bring up things we may not have known about,” Koontz said.
Editor’s note: Editor’s Note: Updated to reflect Koontz’s meeting with West High GSA.