Dulaney High School senior Jenny Park and School Superintendent Joe Hairston have something important in common: They are both in their last year in Baltimore County Public Schools.
Park will graduate at the end of the 2012 school year, and Hairston has announced he'll step down when his contract expires next summer.
Between now and then, Park hopes to make use of their common bond as she serves on Hairston's Student Advisory Board, a distinction she called a "huge honor."
"It's my last year of high school, and even though it's my last year in Baltimore County and his last year as superintendent, I feel like we're making progress toward helping the students who will remain after us," Park said.
Park is one of six students named to the advisory board for the current year. Others are Hafiz Aina ,of Woodlawn High School; Christopher Blair, of Catonsville High School; Olivia Keithley, of Hereford High School; Emily Lipka of the Carver Center for Arts and Technology; and Logan McNaney, of Lansdowne High School.
The first of the board's monthly meetings, which occurred in late October, was a productive one, Park said.
"(Hairston) told us a lot about his background to show us basically where he came from and to make himself more relatable," she said. "He emphasized how big of a difference we could make, and it made me more comfortable being there."
Right from the start, Park went to bat for her school in addressing Dulaney's biggest issue.
"One of our main issues at Dulaney is class size," she said. "This year, the class sizes range from low-20s to high-30s. One gym class has 50 members.
"Teachers and students have both come up and said that's a huge issue for them," she said, "so I brought that up with Mr. Hairston."
Park, who is also the president of the Dulaney Student Government Association, deputy editor of the school newspaper and a member of the school's county champion golf team, said she could tell Hairston was being honest and open with the student council members.
"He offered suggestions and mentioned his own feedback," she said. "He didn't sugarcoat it with stats about how great Baltimore County is."
And while, over the years, one of the main gripes about the superintendent from some county residents has been a perceived lack of accessibility and responsiveness, Park said he is always open to students concerns.
"I attend the PTSA meetings, and they regularly say that they try to contact him and it usually goes kind of neglected," said Park.
"But I see him quite often because of the Baltimore County Student Council and the Student Advisory Board," she said. "He emphasizes the student feedback part because students know what's going on."
"That's why he puts so much weight on student feedback. He relies on students because they're the ones going through the educational system right now."
Park, who applied via early decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania next fall, said Hairston is a regular presence at the general assembly meetings of the Baltimore County Student Council.
In a release last week, Hairston emphasized just how invaluable he finds the advisory board's input.
"The time I spend with our students helps me maintain clarity of mission," he said in a statement. "I work from a stronger position when I hear directly from them."
Hairston said students give him a "critical lens" on the school system and the students "are all wise beyond their years."
For Hairston, this edition of the Student Advisory Board is different from the previous incarnations.
"These students were in kindergarten when I arrived at Baltimore County Public Schools," Hairston said in the release. "I have been their superintendent throughout their students, and I intend to 'graduate' with them at the end of the school year."