Unlike school boards in neighboring districts, Cherry Hill’s board includes representatives from each high school who report events and news from their school and offer insight from their peers.
While the board representatives offer plenty of feedback from the school community, Superintendent Maureen Reusche realized the representatives are just two of more than 3,000 high school students in the district.
Reusche wanted to hear from a larger group of students. So instead of having the students visit her at the Malberg Administration Building, she decided to visit the students.
The district held the first meeting of a new Town Hall Meeting series on Dec. 5 at Cherry Hill High School West. A group of about 20 to 30 students met with Reusche during their lunch period to discuss topics and concerns they may have within the Cherry Hill West community.
The main goal of the series was to break down a barrier between the student body and administrators. Reusche felt having a forum where students could openly ask questions on any school-related topic was the best way to do this.
“I really wanted something a little less formal,” Reusche said.
Reusche worked with the high schools’ board of education representatives to get the series off the ground. A small group of students was selected to attend the first meeting, and the representatives from the high school came up with topics they felt students wanted to hear about.
However, no one really knew what to expect heading into the first meeting.
“I admit, I was a little nervous before the meeting,” Reusche said.
The participating students were also nervous entering the event. Alexis Chiaro, Cherry Hill West’s alternative representative on the board, said no one had ever met an administrator in such an informal setting before.
“People were a little nervous going in,” Chiaro said.
Once the meeting began, everyone slowly became more comfortable. Chiaro and Katelyn Corris, Cherry Hill West’s main board representative, said they prepared questions to facilitate conversation if the group of students ran out of things to talk about. However, this ended up not being an issue.
“Kids were asking questions as they went along,” Corris said. “I think they understood things a little bit better.”
Reusche credited the students with making the process a relaxed and insightful experience.
“The students really jumped into a leadership position,” Reusche said. “Our board of education representatives really helped with that.”
The meeting appears to have had a tangible impact on the district. Reusche said the district is already looking into two topics students brought up during discussions. One involves traffic issues outside school during arrival and dismissal, and the other involves looking into the ability of clubs to sell food for fundraisers during the school day.
Chiaro was excited to hear the district not only listened to the students, but also plans to take a more detailed look at some of their concerns.
“I truly believe these meetings will lessen frustrations,” she said.
The meeting series will debut at Cherry Hill East on Jan. 15. Based on the successful feedback from the first meeting at Cherry Hill West, more town halls will likely be scheduled at both high schools in the spring.
Chiaro said students are excited to participate in a town hall meeting again. She felt it has opened a new line of communication between the students and administration
“It helped reassure students that their voice can be heard,” Chiaro said.