Category Archives: Student Politics

What is Student Council?

What is Student Council? Who is on it and how does it function? These are questions that I did not know the complete answers to even after spending most of my high school career in this organization.

In theory, Student Council is the voice of the students, the union to the school’s corporation, an organization that is always there to fight for the rights, wants and needs of all of the students of Southwest High school. But, in reality the primary goal of Student Council is to ensure that every student who attends Southwest feels safe and comfortable, and to provide students with a climate that allows them to thrive both academically and socially.

The organization boasts of a diverse group of over one hundred members. Selected from a wide range of applicants every fall, those accepted come from different races, grades, and social circles. These students meet once every Thursday at 7:45 in the media center to discuss and plan major school events.

Aside from these major meetings where every member of Student Council is expected to attend, there are many sub-groups that have more specific areas of focus. For every grade, there is a board consisting of about 15-20 members only from that grade. So for example the Juniors have a “Junior Board” that focuses primarily on all of the Juniors. These groups meet twice or so every month to discuss ways that they can better the members of that grade and accomplish anything else that is needed to help aid Student Council as a whole.

At the tippy top of it all there is the Executive Board, the brains of the operation. They discuss and plan almost everything student related in the school, everything right down to type of clothes you should be wearing on October fourth (classy clothes). Exec Board consists of 16 members each of who is focused on one particular aspect of the functioning of the organization. Because of the rigid, organized, structure of Student Council, work is almost always done with extreme efficiency and care.

Every year Student Council invites the whole school to celebrate Blast Day, a very exciting day for students and administration filled with activities and other goodies for students to participate in. The organization uses this to promote awareness and raise money for a certain charitable cause. This year Blast Day will be centered around the Sanneh Foundation, an organization that raises money to help to build soccer fields and encourage soccer leagues in impoverished areas ofHaiti.

Additionally, Student Council is charged with planning, funding, and managing every single dance at Southwest High School (except Sadie Hawkins, which is run by NHS). Currently, the organization is focused almost entirely on planning another great Homecoming. They are rethinking and constantly questioning how things were done in previous years to attempt to create the greatest dance and spirit week possible for all grades. “We’re really trying to rethink how we do things,” says Maddie Portnoy, Student Council co-president. “We’re completely changing the parade and replacing it with ‘Southwest Strut.’” This year Homecoming will be at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Minneapolis and is looking like it may be one of the best dances that this school has ever produced.

Student Council is honestly the strongest, most hardworking and dedicated organization in Southwest high school. It has been this writer’s privilege to be a part of this organization with leaders like Maddie Portnoy and Danny Fisher who have a contagious enthusiasm and dedication to the well being of the students.  The ever present force of Student Council was a major factor in creating and maintaining the greatness ofSouthwest High School.

CityWide Must Evolve: A Case for Reform

As far as high school student governments go, CityWide Student Government is quite an admirable one. This academic year has seen bold progress as CityWide embraced its role as a forum for discussion among its members. (For those unaware, CityWide is the representative body for the students of all Minneapolis Public Schools, hosting monthly summits of a dozen representatives from each of the city’s public high schools.) As a result of efforts led by CityWide members, including some of our very own Southwest Senators, the School Board welcomed discussion on modernizing the District’s Electronics Policy.

The role of CityWide will become more crucial as the District evolves. With similar education plans being implemented district-wide and a considerable refocusing on attendance boundaries, the District is facing an overall homogenization—a move that will serve to unite the high schools under the MPS banner. This unity will rely much on CityWide. To evolve in accordance with the new responsibilities, there are significant flaws within the structure of CityWide that must be remedied.

First, the Executive Board must be elected via Direct Representation.

The current election method of the highest echelon of CityWide representation is much too anarchic and allows for certain schools to dominate the Exec Board. At the final meeting of the year, all in attendance are given an option to run for any of the ten positions (President, Vice President, Editor, etc.), with the only requirement being a minute-long candidacy speech. The winner of the Presidency acquires authority for the entirety of the following school year. Essentially, a first-time attendee to a CityWide meeting can take the stage, and should their charisma be adequate, take control of such a crucial organization of which they were never contributors.

Direct Representation strives to fix this flaw.

In Direct Representation, the student bodies of each Minneapolis Public High School would be allowed to select their Executive at CityWide. Instead of a hierarchy in the Executive Board, there would be “Ten Executives” of CityWide Student Government.

The benefits to this system are overwhelming. The tendency for South and Southwest to take up disproportionate amounts of seats on the Board will be countered. Healthy competition will arise as a natural by-product of having ten Executives all with large constituencies to represent.

Direct Representation is the first step.

Second, participation must be academically incentivized.

A youth organization reaches its highest level of legitimacy when academic incentive is provided for participation. In the case of CityWide, additional Social Studies credit is the natural award. The structure of the government will be best preserved if the members have academic incentives for participation. This will require discussion with Social Studies departments throughout the District.

Third, the Mission must be reinforced.

All members of CityWide should be required to memorize the Mission Statement of the government.

“We, the CityWide Student Government, are here to provide service and to voice the opinions of Minneapolis Public Schools students. Our goal is to create a positive, respectful, forum where students feel welcome to discuss their concerns and develop leadership skills. We will represent and unite students in the Minneapolis Public Schools district. We realize that students, administrators, staff, parents, and community all play an important role in education and we will work together to achieve the best education possible.”

This requirement, recited at the commencement of each summit, would reinforce the principle of “voicing opinions.” An encouragement of discussion has already taken hold of this year’s CityWide. The continuance of it can be insured by adequate reinforcement of the Mission Statement.

Fourth, the location of the monthly Summit must change.

CityWide has been well-served in its developmental stages by the lower level hall of northern Minneapolis’ Urban League. The evolution of the organization requires more suitable circumstances. A question of taste, what is clear about the venue of the Summit is this: a new location, better equipped for the capacity and progression of CityWide, is necessary. Such a move would vitalize the government, ensuring its progress.

These reforms will aid CityWide in its ambition to be relevant to the District over periods of extensive progress. In order to be efficient, the government must evolve. By modernizing its election method, academically incentivizing participation, reinforcing its mission, and adopting a more appropriate venue, CityWide will develop a strong resilience to the tendency of all too many student organizations—the tendency to slip into oblivion via irrelevance.

Author’s Note: I entered CityWide my sophomore year and admired the nature of the government from the very beginning. It is my whole-hearted intent that I leave the Student Government better than I found it. These four points are based off a close affiliation with CityWide throughout the past three years. Discussion and debate are at the core of the spirit of CityWide. I encourage any and all discussion and debate for the sake of CityWide Student Government.

CityWide Must Change : A Case for Direct Representation

“We, the CityWide Student Government, are here to provide service and to voice the opinions of Minneapolis Public Schools students.”

Like it or not, you, as a student of the Minneapolis Public Schools, have a government. Entitled “CityWide Student Government” (Briefly, Citywide or CW) the organization is the monthly congregation of a dozen representatives from each Minneapolis Public High School. Its executive board is comprised of members elected by the government members in an annual election. Chief among its responsibilities is the representation of the 30,000+ Minneapolis Public Schools students to the School Board. Nominally, there is much power in Citywide. An efficient citywide can do much to benefit the quality of education and the student experience in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Recently, Southwest chose to formalize its representation to Citywide. Dubbed “the Southwest Ambassadors,” Southwest students present at the Citywide meeting have invigorated the government. At times abrasive, always productive, Citywide Student Government has produced its first Citywide policy change initiative at the request of the Southwest Senate, via the selected Ambassadors. The change is directed towards the electronics policy of the District that the Southwest Senate viewed to be draconian at best. Now, significant strides have been made by Citywide to the extent that, according to a Southwest Member of the Citywide Executive Board, the School Board is hosting a special session to remedy the matter.

Yet this hard-fought achievement brought to light the significant flaw within Citywide: The composition of the Executive Board.

Case in point: the hailed progress on a modernized Electronics Policy. The first meeting of the year ended with a promise by the Executive Board to return the following month with a draft policy. The next meeting saw nothing that could be considered policy—the promise was extended. The third meeting of the year saw the presentation of the resolution, justifying the need for change but not suggesting any. This meeting saw agitation and discord. Ultimately, the preamble was presented to the School Board, which appreciated the idea, and called for a special session.

The problem is within the means to which this end was achieved. What should have taken one month took three. At this rate, the efficiency of the government is highly compromised. To fix this requires a restructuring of the Executive Board.

What exists now is a ten-member executive strata of students elected at the last meeting of the year.

The process of candidacy is very inefficient. There is no application—simply whoever shows up at the last meeting is eligible to run for the position of choice. Thus, one person, charismatic enough to pull it off, can have no previous participation in Citywide, show up to the last meeting, win the presidency by giving the best one-minute speech, and control citywide for the whole of the following school year. To solve this obvious flaw is the purpose of “Direct Representation.”

Direct Representation, the brainchild of the Southwest Senate, calls for an Executive Board comprised of one internally selected member from each high school. Including the smaller specialty high schools, the number of Executive Board members will remain roughly the same. Each school will be held responsible to provide their best representative and they shall be made an executive member. Essentially, there will be “Ten Presidents.”

A major flaw within the Executive Board is its composition. The current board is composed of Southwest and South students with the exception of two members. The domination by the two schools is contrary to the “citywide” angle of the government. The principle of Direct Representation counters this imbalance.

Direct representation also creates a competitive atmosphere. When any new idea is brought up by, let’s say, an Edison student, it becomes the responsibility of Edison’s Executive member to pursue that initiative. A cooperative mindset will prove itself to be most beneficial, so a natural camaraderie will emerge while still maintaining a competitive edge.

Citywide will thrive. It will prosper and, above all, it will be efficient. Citywide would be the envy of any student representative body. To attain its rightful status and develop efficiency for the sake of the students, Citywide must change—it must adopt Direct Representation.

How the Senate Will Fail (and Why It Will Rise Again)

For the Senate to be relevant, there must be a crisis of existence

As the creator of the Senate, I can say firmly and with much pride that the Senate will fail. Here’s how:

Apathy. Continual, mundane apathy. It’s both the curse and blessing of being a member of a democratic society. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with it. The problems only arise when something new is proposed.

The Senate originated with the purpose of full representation of Southwest Students. In calm periods for the school, such as now, the attention of the Senate, which meets during lunch periods, would mainly revolve around CityWide Student Government initiatives and school policy. In periods of crisis, such as the present situation at North, the senate would assume its role as representatives of the student body and adopt rules of debate and action to protect the interests of the school as the students best see fit. Southwest is arguably the least likely of being threatened with closure, but therein lies the necessity of a representative body: a safeguard of the Student Body’s interests.

The Senate was a completely novel idea. Nowhere exists a completely student-run representative body. The “Senates” in some suburban schools resemble service organizations more than representative bodies, the biggest danger in the mind of the author being their control by adult advisors. Thus there exists a certain Southwest spirit in the idea of the Senate.

But the senate will not work now. There is no urgency. There is no reason to abandon apathy. Had this been a school facing an imminent crisis, the context of the Senate would make tremendous sense. Otherwise, the existence of the senate would require an extraordinary change of mindset (who knows? Might happen) that will not happen. There is a distinct lack of interest in a safeguard. Eventually that apathy will result in low attendance at the meetings (which has surprisingly been avoided so far) and the eventual dissolution of the senate. It is something that is bound to happen. That is why the Senate will fail.

The author is the creator of the Senate. Though I am sad to see this organization slowly die, I am filled with pride towards all those involved and the Senate itself due to the inevitable rebirth of this noble idea.

It will undoubtedly take years, maybe decades, but the destiny of the Minneapolis Public Schools shows all tendencies towards conflict. There are simply too many wealthy suburban schools, too many flaws within the district, too many school closings and budgetary imbalances. The threat to close North High is only the beginning, for the circumstances that affected the oldest high school in the city can just as easily be applied to any of the other seven high schools. Whether or not we are ready for it, a crisis of existence will occur. the spirit of the Senate is geared towards this crisis.

It can only be hoped that the future classes of Southwest Lakers who are enrolled into such a crisis carry an ambitious spirit reminiscent to the one that created the senate. That will ensure the survival and flourishing of our school and our district.

The current Senate is destined to fail. It is a severe crisis of existence that will inevitably give it new life and a chance to fulfill its role as representatives of the Student Body of the great Southwest Lakers.