By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANDERSON TOWNSHIP - Every month, 10 high school students feed Superintendent John Patzwald their thoughts and ideas. He feeds them lunch.
In his 11 years as Forest Hills School District superintendent, Patzwald has hosted the student forum. Five students from Anderson High School and five from Turpin High School gather at the board office to discuss student concerns.
Recent topics have ranged from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to whether to allow high school students to leave campus for lunch to whether students like the idea of parents monitoring their homework and grades via a Web site
Patzwald isn't the only Tristate superintendent to host such meetings, but he may have the longest tenure. Patzwald, who has been a superintendent for about 20 years, has initiated the forums in every post he has held.
Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Alton Frailey visits schools every Friday morning and talks with students. He also has interviewed students on his weekly radio show on WCIN, which airs live 9-10 a.m. Wednesdays.
Lakota Superintendent Kathleen Klink meets periodically with journalism classes at both high schools. Students get the chance to practice their interviewing skills, and she gets to hear from them.
Fairfield Superintendent Robert Farrell conducts a monthly "superintendent's forum" with 15-20 high school leaders. The agenda is developed by Farrell and the students.
Winton Woods Superintendent Camille Nasbe held her first "Student Advisory Council" meeting of the year last Monday. She started the meetings last year.
Madeira Superintendent Steve Kramer invites about 10 seniors to a pizza lunch two to three times a week. He makes sure he sees every senior, including the students at the vocational schools.
"Part of it goes back to the fact that I can't let go of being a principal," he said. "It's hard not to be around kids. It's important to me."
Student forum members are chosen by teachers, counselors and principals. Some join the forum in their freshman year and continue until they graduate.
Bigger portions and more salads were added to lunch menus as a result of student forum input.
But some things don't change. Most years, students ask for "open campus," allowing them to leave school grounds for lunch. But there aren't enough fast-food restaurants nearby to allow students to get back in time, Patzwald said.
"It doesn't spark a whole lot of change, because everything we say still has to go through the school board," said Marshall Remmele, an 18-year-old Turpin senior who has served on student forum throughout high school.
Nonetheless, Patzwald said he puts a lot of emphasis on the forum and discusses student concerns with the high school principals.
Among items on this month's agenda, which is set by students:
Edline: Some students were concerned about parents micromanaging their children's academic lives by having access to too much information on Edline, a Web site that posts students' grades online.
Other students liked it because it reminds them of assignments, and they get their grades back faster. Another said it takes the responsibility for school out of students' hands.
Schools stepping into students' private lives: They wondered why a student gets disciplined for incidents that occur off campus after school hours.
Schools prefer not to get involved in a lot of out-of-school situations, Patzwald explained, but private lives sometime spill over into school.
Exam exemptions: Why can't students get more exam exemptions? Currently, high school students who have earned As for both nine-week grading periods may be exempt from only one semester exam. If they are doing well in a class, students said, it would allow them to study more for exams in classes where they want to improve their grades.
Patzwald agreed to review the issue. "We will not let this one go. It's come up too often."
One student asked for the school board's position on saying the Pledge of Allegiance, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the recitation in public schools with the phrase "under God" was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
The board has directed schools to recite the pledge daily, Patzwald said.
When asked how students feel about reciting the pledge daily, they said some kids talk through the pledge, don't stand up or continue their school work. When it's done daily, they said, it becomes rote and not as significant.
Students agreed that the sessions are valuable.
"It's really important to feel like you have input into what's going on in your school," said Brittany Tarvin, 17, an Anderson High School senior. "When you come here, your opinion is heard, and you know they're going to consider it and respect it."
It can be intimidating, at first, to be candid to a cadre of administrators, but the apprehension quickly wears off.
"They make you feel really comfortable," Brittany said. "They make you feel like you're on the same level as them for an hour or two. ... It's a special kind of relationship. Even if nothing gets changed, I still feel like I made a big difference."
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