Gov. Wes Moore has appointed Wilde Lake High School rising senior Abisola Ayoola as the Maryland State Board of Education’s newest student member.
“I can’t say enough about the tremendous leader and person Ms. Ayoola is,” Howard school board Chair Antonia Watts said in a news release Wednesday. “She has been such a valuable member of our Board and has provided us with the critical student perspective that is so valuable to the decisions we make on behalf of students, staff and families.”
Moore said in an email that Ayoola “is a proven advocate and voice for students.”
Ayoola, 17, of Columbia, is serving as the Howard County Board of Education’s student member until June 30 and will begin her one-year term on the state board July 1.
“We are incredibly excited for Abisola to have this amazing leadership opportunity,” said Wilde Lake Principal Marcy Leonard. “It’s also awesome for the students of Howard County and across the state of Maryland to have such skilled and compassionate leadership on their behalf.”
Ayoola’s appointment comes at a critical time for the board, which will determine whether to renew State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury’s contract if he wishes to remain in the position past June 2024. Choudhury has until July 1 to notify the board, which must vote on the contact and notify him within a week of its July 25 meeting.
Zach Hands, the board’s executive director, confirmed in an email that Ayoola is able to vote on the superintendent’s contract renewal.
The State Board of Education consists of 14 members, including an actively serving teacher, public school parent and a student, all appointed by the governor. Board members serve without compensation but may be reimbursed for expenses incurred attending meetings or performing their duties.
Setting K-12 educational policy and standards, interpreting the intent of school-related laws and approving drafts of three annual budgets, including state aid to local education agencies, fall under the board’s purview.
Every year, each Maryland public high school is invited to nominate one student to serve on the state board. Five finalists were voted on at the Maryland Association of Student Councils’ Legislative Session in February, which was attended by more than 300 student leaders, who elected two finalists to send to the governor. Rockville High School sophomore Madison Watts was this year’s other finalist.
Ayoola is Howard County’s sixth state student member since the position was established in 1985 and the first since Centennial High School student Josh Michael served in 2005-2006.
Student members are held to high standards alongside their adult peers and are expected to review a slew of weekly reports, attend monthly meetings and help disseminate relevant information to the nearly 900,000 public school students in the state.
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Student members are also permitted to vote on all board issues except those pertaining to legal appeals and the removal or reprimand of personnel. The same does not hold true for all student members across Maryland’s 24 local school boards, which restrict student voting rights to varying degrees.
For years Maryland students have advocated for stronger representation on school boards and have seen recent successes, including the signing of a bill last month that granted the Baltimore County Public Schools’ student board member the right to vote on budgetary items.
But the efforts have also drawn pushback from some Marylanders, a fight with which Ayoola is well acquainted.
In August 2022, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against an attempt to limit the voting power of students in Howard County. The lawsuit, filed by two parents, was made after the then-student member repeatedly voted against returning to in-person instruction during the 2020-2021 school year, resulting in a series of failed 4-4 motions.
“I’m glad [the courts] were able to reinforce the fact that student members are important and valuable to our boards of education,” Ayoola told the Howard County Times after the ruling. “The will of a few shouldn’t trump the majority of student opinions.”
Along with her position on the Howard school board, Ayoola is involved in a number of clubs at Wilde Lake, including student government, class council and Active Minds, which facilitates conversations and activities about student mental health. She is also a member of the Spanish Honor Society and the National Honor Society.
“I think that Abisola’s experience this year with the Howard County Board of Education and next year, what she’ll be able to do with the Maryland State Board of Education, is just another reminder of the absolute importance of having student voice in educational decision making,” said Leonard, who served as the first student member of Howard’s school board during the 1988-1989 school year. “They are the ultimate stakeholders and consumers of our educational process.”