June 16th, 2020 11:48 AM
By Bob Skolnik
Later this summer, Lily Adlesick and Michael Ciszewski will become the first ever student advisory members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education.
At their May 26 meeting, the District 208 school board voted unanimously to add Adlesick and Ciszewski, both of whom live in Riverside and are heading into their senior years, to the school board in an advisory, non-voting role.
In addition to not voting Adlesick and Ciszewski will not attend closed sessions of the school board. Their role will be to provide input and represent the views of students at the board table.
The idea to have student advisory members came from board member Tom Jacobs, who campaigned in 2019 as the voice of the students. While Jacobs always wanted to have two student advisory board members, a boy and a girl, the board initially was planning on selecting just one student.
But after Jacobs, fellow board member Bill Durkin, Superintendent Kevin Skinkis and Principal Hector Freytas interviewed the four finalists for the position, they decided that it was too hard to choose between Adlesick and Ciszewski. Instead, both will be added as advisory board members for the 2020-21 school year.
"The top two choices were just so close," Jacobs said, adding that naming student advisory school board members was the clear highlight of his first year on the school board.
"I had always thought it would be smarter to have two, because there's a little less pressure [than] on a single person, there's some redundancy, there is broader outreach potential," Jacobs said. "This representative is sort of charged with representing the voice of 1,600 students. With two you have broader coverage. The way the interviews went you'd be crazy not to do it."
Once the board decided to add student advisory board members, administrators asked students to apply for the position. Ten submitted applications and administrators initially winnowed the list down to six. Students at RBHS then voted to determine the top four to interview.
Jacobs said Adlesick, who is the treasurer of the Student Association and has been class treasurer since her freshman year, emphasized wanting to reach out to and represent all students and not just those already involved in school activities.
"I just think that inclusivity is a really important issue right now; it's now important more than ever regarding recent events," said Adlesick in a telephone interview with the Landmark.
Adlesick said she was interested in being an advisory board member because she wants to improve the school as a natural outgrowth of her other activities which, in addition to student government, include being a member of the Girl Up club and playing on the badminton and tennis teams.
"I just really value being involved in the school, and I thought this was a good opportunity to represent the students and get closer to the administration to know what was going on," Adlesick said.
In his interview with the selection committee, Ciszewski emphasized the need to improve and expand social-emotional learning and utilize the findings of the state-mandated Five Essentials survey of school stakeholders.
Ciszewski has been very active in the Model U.N. at RBHS, serving as the director of operations during the just completed school year. He will be the under-secretary-general for the 2020-2021 school year.
The son of immigrants from Poland, Ciszewski, is also very active outside of school. He co-founded the Polish American Youth Council in Chicago. He said it is important that there be a student perspective at school board meetings.
"We have teachers' perspective, we have parent perspectives but we never have the student [perspective] really," Ciszewski said.
Ciszewski believes that having students at the board table will be more than just window dressing, even though he and Adlesick will not be able to vote.
"I think this is going to be different because students are going to actually have a voice for once," Ciszewski said. "While Dr. Freytas has meetings for us to speak about our concerns, we never got to actually speak to the board specifically. Having us right next to them, sitting next to them and speaking to them directly now, I think is going to actually get some change to come around."
Both Adlesick and Ciszewski said that they think having two students as advisory members will be better than having just one.
"I think that two students can represent students much better than one would, because Michael and I are involved in different things, so we bring different perspectives to the table," Adlesick said.
But Jacobs said that having two student advisory board members this coming year does not necessarily mean that there will be two student advisory board members beyond next year.
"This is at the discretion of the board, something that we felt we want to try," Jacobs said at the May 27 school board meeting. "We have no obligation whatsoever to pick two again next year, or any student advisors for that matter."
There has been a student advisory member of the Lyons Township High School District 204 Board of Education for the past two decades. The student representative for 2020-21 will be Margaret Meehan of Western Springs.
At the May 26 meeting, Durkin said that he was very impressed with all four students who were interviewed.
"This interview process was one of the most personally rewarding times that I have spent on the board so far," said Durkin, who was also elected to board in 2019.
Adlesick and Ciszewski will begin attending RBHS board meetings in August.