Although Centennial High School Principal Stephanie Porta declined last week to comment on her decision to pull the plug on the longstanding student trustee program with the Northwest Civic Association, a district spokesman defended her action.
The termination of the student trustee program, which dated back to the mid-1980s and involved as many as four Centennial High seniors serving on the civic association's board as full voting members during the academic year, came to light at the June 28 special meeting during which President John Ehlers was ousted from his post.
Ehlers announced that the squabbling among adult board members meant Centennial was no longer going to participate, although he added that, unsolicited, he had received an application from a Bishop Watterson High School student interested in being a trustee.
All four of the most recent group of Centennial students were on hand for the special meeting, and sought to explain why they jointly wrote a letter expressing their frustration at the drama they had been subjected to during their time on the board. Rachel Massey referred to "all this crazy chaos."
"It's just not safe for us," she added. "It's not OK for students to go through this."
But she was interrupted by longtime civic association member Tom Kasberg who said it had been good for the students, that they learned valuable lessons in discovering that sometimes people don't get along with one another.
"This is real-world," Kasberg said.
"This was something that I feel was beyond the norm," countered recent Centennial graduate Sarah Hangen.
"It was unfair to place us in a position where we were made uncomfortable due to the amount of arguing that was going on."
" It is concerning to us that a civic association full of adults can have such dysfunction, as we have observed this year, to the point where people interested in joining the board are unwilling to participate after witnessing the unnecessary drama of the annual meeting," the four student trustees stated in their letter. "We feel that we need to share our concerns with the direction that the NWCA is taking and to share our viewpoints on these events which need to be taken into consideration if the board intends on having other Centennial student trustees for the 2017-2018 year.
"These problems need to be fixed before other students are brought into this situation."
Scott Varner, executive director of strategic communications and public relations for Columbus City Schools, said he spoke with Porta last week and she "would rather not comment further and add to the discourse." He did, however, issue the following statement on behalf of the district:
"With many programs in our schools, we often pause to reflect and reevaluate if the efforts are meeting the educational objectives and expectations that were originally set. From what I have read in (ThisWeek Northwest Side) articles, it appears as though the association's trustee meetings may not have been providing the constructive learning environment that was originally envisioned for our student trustees. So, with good reason, Principal Porta has chosen to pause the program for the coming school year to reflect and reevaluate, working closely with the Northwest Civic Association, which has been a good partner with the district."
Nick Cipiti, who was voted in as board president at the June 28 meeting, expressed regret at the decision by Columbus City Schools officials.
"As far as the school program goes, the student trustees, it's disappointing that we lost that one with Centennial, but hopefully we can salvage that one before it's too late," Cipiti said. "I think we're still open to other schools."
Cipiti added that he is working with a group of volunteers to create job descriptions for board of trustees members so that at the next regular session, scheduled for Aug. 2, a full board of as many as 15 members can be voted in.