The latest in an interview series with Ferndale School District Superintendent Dr. Linda Quinn features an interview with student school board members Noah Semu and Avneet Pannu. Student school board members serve two-year terms. Semu is a senior at Ferndale High School in his second year as a student school board member while Pannu is a Ferndale High School junior in her first of two years as a student school board member.
LQ: Thank you Noah and Avneet for being here today for this interview during School Board Recognition Month. Why did you decide to apply for the school board?
NS: I’d had the idea of applying for the school board for a while. My sister was the first student to serve on the school board as a student member, and that was years before I was here. She always told me that she kind of knew it was something I’d want to do, before I even knew it, because she kind of saw what I’d be. I got into high school, got involved and I saw the school board opportunity. It really did seem like something I’d want to do to learn about the community, improve my own leadership skills and experience, and be able to share the students’ perspective to the school board – because that is one of the main jobs we have.
AP: I joined because I wanted to help people, and I felt like I was an approachable person so people could talk to me about any concerns they had. I also wanted to know for myself what was going on in the community and educate myself.
LQ: What have you learned since being on the school board?
AP: I’ve learned about the levy, what it is, and I’ve learned a little bit about how the new high school is going to be laid out. I went to the WSSDA (Washington State School Directors’ Association) Conference and I learned a lot about issues that are happening in schools right now.
LQ: That’s right, there were a lot of sessions at the conference – on just about everything from bullying prevention to governance models and from running a bond to running an effective employee wellness program. Noah, what have you learned?
NS: As Avneet said, learning I’ve learned a lot about how the community works. As a student in the district, you hear of the school board as a far off group or council that watches over the district. But, joining and speaking to the board members, you see it is people and parents who want to help the schools be the best they can be. I was able to learn about the bond last year. With the bond failing the first time and then passing during a special election, I learned how elections work. And how students can participate in high-level district matters and they don’t have to just sit on the sidelines.
LQ: Yes, you helped share information and tell the story about how important our bond project was going to be for our school district.
What kind of advice would you give to a student who is thinking about running for the school board?
NS: Some people run for the school board because they know they’re in a position where they can help and can assist with the student perspective. Another type of person sees it as an opportunity for growth. I think those are both really important reasons. So, my advice for someone applying: I think everyone who has a chance to do so should. There is not much negative you can get from learning about the community where you live. And people who are thinking about what to say in their applications – just write it out and be yourself. The school board wants someone who is true to themselves and genuine.
AP: If you want to go for it, you should just do it. It helps you grow as a person. Try to not be nervous during interviews because the board members are just people who care about our schools. When they are sitting in front of you, asking you questions, it may be kind of scary but just be authentic in yourself.
LQ: For anyone is interested in applying, I can share that the board selects student school board members – one per year – through an interview process. Interested students can pick up applications in the spring from the high school office and fill them out. The application asks for a couple of short essays about things like your reasons for wanting to be on the school board and the ways you might contribute. Students who apply are invited to interview with the school board. We try to put students into groups of two or three for these interviews so they’re not up there all by themselves. Ultimately, the school board makes the final selection.
NS: And even if you’re not currently interested in joining, get interested because it’s an option now and a chance you will probably not get again.
LQ: It’s a great opportunity among all the things you can do to get involved, and it’s also a great experience to have on your resume. Speaking of resumes, what are you going to do next year?
NS: I am planning on going to Stanford in California to major in computer science.
LQ: That’s impressive Noah. I believe under five percent of the applicants to Stanford get in. And I don’t think it hurt that you were a student school board member.
NS: My role on the board was definitely part of it. I think one of my main essays was specifically about the bond and being on the school board. It was a process that helped me learn about the community.
LQ: Colleges do not just look at grades. They look at what else have you done. They want to know how you shaped your learning into some kind of action. Getting the bond passed to build a new high school is a pretty big accomplishment.
Avneet, have you started thinking about what you want to do after high school?
AP: I’m not sure yet.
LQ: Fair enough, you’ve still got time. What’s your favorite class in high school?
AP: I like leadership and Spanish.
LQ: Are you fourth year Spanish?
AP: Yes, I am.
LQ: And do you speak other languages?
AP: Yes, I also speak Punjabi and Hindi.
LQ: Wow, that is impressive. And what do you speak, Noah?
NS: I just speak English, but I have taken five years of Spanish so I can hold my own in Spanish conversations, especially in class. Several of my siblings speak Spanish due to serving missions in Spanish-speaking areas, so I’ve been around Spanish for a lot of my life. And for my job at Edaleen’s, we have a lot of Spanish-speaking customers come in and it definitely helps with translating.
LQ: And what’s your favorite class?
NS: Probably choir, because I love music and singing. But another class I like is my multi variable math class, which only has four kids in it because of how difficult it is to get to that point in math during high school. With those four kids, we are really able to learn the content even though it’s really difficult. It’s a really great environment and really fun in that class.
LQ: Thank you both for taking the time to have a conversation with me today. It’s School Board Appreciation Month, so let me end by telling you how much I appreciate you.