SJUSD Students Take on Leadership Mantle as Members of Board of Education
Applications now open for 2024-25 school year
Like other public entities throughout the state, the San José Unified School District (SJUSD) is governed by a policy body composed of seasoned professionals, advocates, and consultants passionate about their respective fields. But what makes the SJUSD Board of Education unique is that these policy veterans are paired with young, precocious colleagues—teenagers who represent the collective voice of the District’s student body.
One of those students is Sanvi Manik, and she still cringes a little when she recalls her initial meeting about joining the San José Unified Board of Education. Google Maps sent her to the wrong address, a mix-up that pushed back her arrival time by about 20 minutes, leaving her frantically scrambling to get to the District office on time for her interview.
“Yeah—it was a little embarrassing,” said Manik, a senior at Willow Glen High. “I showed up a little late, but everyone was very understanding. The Board members there asked me a bunch of questions about my interests, and I think they could tell right away that I was pretty passionate about my education. So, things worked out in the end.”
Since that minor hiccup, Manik has been a steady, dependable presence as the student representative on the seven-member Board of Education, which set policies and programmatic decisions for the San José Unified School District. She said she’s built a steady rapport with her adult partners on the Board. Manik in particular, cited the mentorship and guidance of SJUSD Board President Wendi Mahaney-Gurahoo and Trustee Brian Wheatley, who have offered helpful tips and guidance throughout her tenure.
“I just spoke with them both recently about my opening interview, and we laughed,” said Manik. “They always have an open line of communication, which really helps make things easy for me.”
The students are nominated by their respective high schools for the representative role and then are approved by a committee composed of Board trustees. Manik and Grace Hirai—who as the alternate member, fills in when Manik is out—provide a critical viewpoint for the 25,000 students who are part of the District.
“We understand the importance of our responsibility,” said Manik. “There are so many different types of students, and I try to recognize that I have a certain amount of privilege. My biggest strength is that I really try to empathize and understand all the different student bodies. I understand that I can’t be the voice of every single student, but try to be the most empathizing I can.”
As the student alternate, Hirai fills in whenever she’s needed. A senior at Gunderson High, Hirai was particularly helpful during the fall sports season, when Manik’s busy schedule playing field hockey required her to miss a few meetings. Like Manik, Hirai was approached by her high school’s Activities Director, who thought she’d make for a great representative on the Board.
“At the time in my junior year, I was very busy with my course load, jobs, and sports, so I was a little reluctant at first,” said Hirai. But I’m super happy I did this. I’ve really enjoyed being able to connect and network with students. And to have an influence and impact on the Board of Education has been really cool.”
The Board of Education usually meets every month on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays. Regular meetings begin at 6:00 p.m. at the District headquarters at 855 Lenzen Avenue. The students regularly attend those meetings in addition to chairing the Intradistrict Leadership Committee, a student committee representing all six comprehensive high schools. The ILC discusses student-related issues that are top of mind and collaborates to work towards common objectives.
“Our student participants are incredibly important. They offer unique perspectives and voices to our policy-making decisions,” said SJUSD Board President Wendi Mahaney-Gurahoo. “We are so grateful for the contributions and effort of students like Sanvi and Grace, who take time out of their busy academic schedules to help address and tackle the District’s most pressing issues. Applications are open next year—I encourage any student interested in taking on this important role to explore this opportunity now.”
Manik and Hirai meet regularly with their contemporaries to collect feedback and thoughts on the issues and challenges concerning the student body. Those topics can range from items like dress code implementations to bolstering mental health resources. They have in-person meetings and also conduct polls on Google Forms to gather the latest thoughts on the students they represent.
“It’s been really inspiring to see changes based on some of the suggestions and concerns we have raised,” said Hirai. “To know that we can have some real positive impacts has been amazing.”
With roughly four months left in the school year, Hirai and Manik’s time on the Board of Education is winding down, but opportunities for the following student representatives are picking up steam. The District is now accepting applications for the 2024 – 2025 school year term.
Schools must submit their student candidates to the District by Monday, February 26. If students are interested, they should contact their school’s activities director to start the process.
Each candidate for Student Board Member should currently be a junior and will need to submit a resume via email (preferred) or fax by Thursday, February 29, 2024. Each student candidate will interview with a panel of Board Members. The interview schedule will be provided when it becomes available. Resumes can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 408-535-2362. Any questions about the Student Board Member selection process should be directed to Dora Joy.
Both Manik and Hirai said they would strongly encourage students to explore the possibility of joining the board.
“Being on the Board and understanding what goes into the policymaking has been fascinating,” said Hirai. “Everyone has been so responsive and respectful. The Trustees have been great, and if I have a question, I can reach out directly to Superintendent Albarrán, and she’s always so quick to get back to me.”
Manik can further attest to the understanding and welcoming nature of her colleagues on the Board.
“From the beginning, they’ve been great,” said Manik. “It’s funny to reflect on that first meeting and see how far we’ve come. It’s been a great experience.”