Oak Harbor School Board includes member who offers different view

Reilly Richards, a junior at Oak Harbor High School, recently started a one-year term as student representative on the Oak Harbor School Board. - Ron Newberry
Reilly Richards, a junior at Oak Harbor High School, recently started a one-year term as student representative on the Oak Harbor School Board.
— image credit: Ron Newberry

As the clock approached 8 p.m. Monday night, Reilly Richards remained focused on the matters at hand.

It would have been easy to drift into thought about Advanced Placement chemistry and other homework that was waiting for her at home.

It might have been easy to dwell on the weariness from an alarm clock that had sounded at 5 a.m. earlier that day to wake her.

But as the student representative of the Oak Harbor School Board, Richards knew she was picked to be in her seat because of the importance attached to her perspective.

“I was nominated by my chemistry teacher last year and first I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because it’s meetings and you’re going to have to write speeches and it kind of freaked me out,” Richards said. “It actually is really interesting.”

Richards, a junior at Oak Harbor High School, started her year-long position on the board last month, taking over the role from Jake Nelson.

But Monday was her first big night to present her voice as she gave her initial student report on recent high school developments and was prompted to ask questions to presenters.

She raised some eye brows with some of her questions.

“She was asking questions that no one else was asking and you have a unique insight into the issues from a student perspective,” superintendent Lance Gibbon said of the student board member position. “They’re the ones who are impacted by a lot of these decisions. Having a voice, having somebody who can at least ask those questions and provide some perspective really I think is invaluable to the work that the board does.”

Richards sits in the front of the room in the administrative building alongside school board members Christine Cribb, Gary Wallin, Pete Hunt, Christine Abbott and Corey Johnson. She has her own nameplate.

“It’s funny,” she said. “It feels official.”

When called upon, she posed questions to presenters about various subjects, including the use of technology in the classroom.

Karst Brandsma, assistant superintendent, and middle school social studies teacher Peter Szalai gave the board a progress report on the district’s adoption process involving secondary social studies curriculum and how they’re weighing online resources in conjunction with traditional textbooks.

Richards called for a mix of both.

“I think there should be a balance,” she said. “Nowadays, students are involved in technology all the time. It offers more opportunities.

“But having a hard copy and textbook to read also is very important.

“I’m a little old-fashioned. I have a difficult time with computers. I think it’s about balances.”

It was clear to Hunt, who recently took over for Wallin as school board president, that Richards would have no problem sharing insight on relevant subjects. She was the last one he’d call on as he went down the table.

“I thought it was interesting,” Richards said. “It made me think about what they were talking about more. I wanted to have a question. After everyone’s already asking questions, being the last one is like, ‘What is there left to ask?’”

But she usually delivered.

Hunt likes having a student member.

“They’ve been involved to differing degrees over time,” Hunt said. “They’ve always been a super high-caliber student who has expressed interest in the process and has always been very knowledgeable about what’s going on in the school. Those are the traits we’re looking for when we approve that board member.”


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