Carroll's first student representative on state school board eager to learn from experience
By By Kym Byrnes
Jul 14, 2014 | 7:10 AM
Most high school students aren't interested in understanding state budget documents, reviewing policy or improving education systems.
But Steven Priester, known for wearing colorful bow ties to Carroll County Board of Education meetings, isn't like most high school students.
On July 22, the Manchester Valley High School senior will attend his first Maryland State Board of Education meeting as a member of the board.
The board has 12 members appointed by the governor, with the student member able to vote on all matters except those pertaining to budget or personnel issues. All but the student member serve four-year terms.
Priester is Carroll County's first student representative to be appointed to the state board. He was named to the position by Gov. Martin O'Malley in May.
Last year, Priester served as the student representative on the Carroll County Board of Education, a position that he said was both rewarding and exhausting.
"Being a student rep for the board of education consumes a lot of time and sanity," Priester said. "It's very rewarding to be on the board, but it comes with its challenges."
Priester was nominated for the position by his school late last year. He was one of five finalists for the student representative position and one of two recommended to the governor's office for consideration. Westminster High School senior Jeremy Price was also one of the five finalists considered for the position.
Involved with student government since the fifth grade, Priester said he never envisioned himself serving at the state level.
The 17-year-old joked, "There's life beyond student government?" then confessed that he does, in fact, participate in activities beyond school board meetings. In addition to playing tuba for the Manchester Valley High School band and working as a peer Spanish tutor, Priester is also active in Boy Scouts and with the countywide student government association.
He has been an honor roll student since elementary school, according to Carroll County Public Schools, and is a two-time recipient of the President's Award for Academic Excellence.
He also plays lacrosse and participates on the school's debate team, Future Educators of America and Ski Club, according to a release from the school system.
With an older brother attending Frostburg State University and a younger brother in middle school, Priester said that his parents are supportive of his school board commitments, although they sometimes caution him to leave some time to be a teenager.
"They're always mindful of my well-being and want to make sure that I'm still enjoying my 17-year-old life," Priester said. "They want to make sure that I don't miss it all."
Both retired firefighters, Priester's parents work in the Carroll County Public School system. His father is a bus driver and his mother is a one-on-one support person in the classroom.
"He is a neat kid. He cares about people and stands up for the things he believes in," Kaaren Priester said of her son. "If he doesn't believe in something, he's going to let you know, but in a nice way. He's a real genuine person."
Priester said he is looking forward to his first State Board of Education meeting.
"I have some anxiety. I hope my skills will transfer between the two board positions," Priester said last week. "But mostly there's just a lot of excitement: This is a huge honor."
Carroll County Board of Education President Virginia Harrison said she expects Priester will excel in his new position.
"Steven was great to work with," Harrison said. "It's intimidating when you're a student, looking out at that audience, and seeing principals and administrators.
"But he did a really good job," she said. "He spoke his mind, and that's what you want — a student who's going to say what he thinks and what he feels. That's a hard thing to do when you know you're on camera and people are watching."
According to the State Department of Education website, "The Board sets the state's education policies and standards for pre-kindergarten through high school and for Maryland's public libraries, juvenile services education and vocational rehabilitation services. It passes regulations that have the force of law."
The board "reviews and approves three annual budgets (the Department of Education headquarters budget, the state aid to local education budget, and state-aided institutions budget) before they're passed on to the governor's office for approval or revision and then to the General Assembly for final action."
It's difficult to tell what the hot button issues will be when it comes to education in Maryland this coming year, but Priester said his focus has been, and will continue to be, addressing student apathy.
"My big push is student awareness and student involvement," Priester said.
"It makes my life so much harder when there's an important issue that students should care about, and they just don't care because they are getting ready to graduate or think the issues doesn't affect them," Priester said. "There are some students who don't even know there is a student rep on the board [of education]."
Priester said that he wants to spend more time in schools, meeting with students and sending the message that students can participate in student government and engage with the Board of Education, ultimately having a voice in decisions that are made on their behalf.
"Everything gets better in a system where students are involved outside of the classroom. There are no negatives in students working to understand what they're learning and why," Priester said.
Priester said he expects to go to college, although he's not sure exactly where yet. Schools "down South" appeal to him right now, he said.
But one thing he is sure of is what he will study when he gets there.
"Since the third grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and the only thing that has changed through the years was what grade and subject I wanted to teach," Priester said.
Priester admits people are sometimes surprised when he tells them his heart is set on being a high school Spanish teacher.
"There are a lot of people who cannot fathom why I would want to be a high school Spanish teacher, considering everything I've done," Priester said. "Why is it a bad thing to be a teacher? Why is that not valued?"
Priester's mom said that the opportunity will serve him well regardless of what he does in his future.