So, what is a student trustee?

by | Mar 5, 2017

Almost nine months ago, I was elected student trustee for my school board.

Almost nine months ago, I had gone through a whirlwind of an election and won, alongside another student I had never even spoken to before.

Almost nine months ago, I asked myself, “What did I just get myself into?”

Because nine months ago, I didn’t really know.

I should preface this by saying that by no means is this article a generalization of how the position of student trustee is seen across Ontario. Knowledge of the position varies across different school boards, and it even varies across schools within those boards. So, I can really only speak from my own experience. What I can tell you is that when I sat in my school’s foyer at a co-op fair, talking about my position as student trustee, I asked every visitor:

“So, do you know what a student trustee is?”

And they all said no. Prior to my election and involvement in my board’s Student Leadership Group, I would’ve said no as well.

Where adult trustees are voted in to represent taxpayers during municipal elections, student trustees are elected annually to represent the school board’s student body. Every board’s election process is different, and no group of student trustees is the same; boards can have as few as one student trustee or as many as three. For example, my board, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (DSB), just integrated two student trustees this school year; the Thames Valley DSB integrated a third student trustee with its implementation of the Indigenous student trustee position. The position is constantly changing and evolving to suit the needs of the students.

Ultimately, the job of the student trustee is to ensure that student voice is heard from the board and beyond. It’s a huge responsibility for one to three students to represent thousands, but it is extremely important that student voice is shared by none other than students.A student trustee is responsible for representing student voice within three distinct levels of Ontario’s education system; school, board, and ministry.

At the school level, student trustees often work with a Student Senate or Leadership Group (exact titles vary depending on the school board), which is a group of students made up of delegates from schools across the trustee’s board. Although most Senates are comprised of secondary students, some Student Senates incorporate elementary student involvement in their meetings as well. These groups are often the first step in beginning student-led board-wide initiatives; meetings allow students to collaborate in making change in their board.

At the board level, student trustees serve as the voice of the greater student population. By sharing ideas and participating in meaningful conversations at the board table, student trustees advocate for the needs and wants of their constituents. Board meetings are also crucial opportunities for student trustees to bring ideas, questions, and initiatives to their adult trustees and administration. Outside of school and board, student trustees are also members of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association (OSTA-AECO).  This association’s General Assembly is comprised of student trustees from all across Ontario who work together to amplify student voice and work with provincial partners such as the Ministry of Education. Through three conferences (Fall General Meeting, Board Council Conference, Annual General Meeting), student trustees from Public and Catholic boards come together to learn about their roles and work to improve the educational experience of Ontario’s students.

Take, for example, OSTA’s recent release of its Student Platform. By gathering over 8,000 responses from Ontario students, OSTA-AECO was able to create a document that outlines three pillars (Student Wellbeing, 21st Century Learning, Equitable Access to Opportunity) to ensure that all Ontario students have a fulfilling educational experience. 16 policy recommendations were released to the general public and political parties; it is intended that the recommendations of the Student Platform will be taken into account by all parties in the upcoming provincial election.

I could write paragraph after paragraph about the ins and outs of such a unique position,  but student voice is at the root of everything we do. We always encourage students to reach out to us to voice their ideas and their concerns – and here’s how you, the student, can do that.

Your school board’s website will have a “Board of Trustees”, “Student Leadership”, or “Student Trustee” section (or something of the sort). By following similar links, you can  find your student trustees and their contact information (an email, social media, etc.) You can also find your student trustee by simply searching “(Your Board) Student Trustee” on Google.

The work of student trustees would be impossible without students. Students are the largest and most important  stakeholder in education and student trustees have the honour and responsibility of representing them; we urge the students to reach out to us if they have any concerns or ideas on how to better their education. To name a couple topics: if you believe that you need more mental health resources in your schools, reach out to your student trustee. If you think that your board should put funding towards accessible breakfast programs, reach out to your student trustee. We want to hear from you!

No day of being a student trustee is predictable, and I am so happy to say that. I encourage you to reach out to your student trustee; I encourage young student leaders to run for the position in their boards’ elections. The position of student trustee has been such a unique one – and as much as I wish I came into the position knowing everything, I think it is even better that it gives me the opportunity to learn every day.