Principal’s Advisory Council offers transparency for students

Dan Wilkins

The new administration in Audubon has made several changes in their first school year as a trio, including new requirements for wearing identification badges, a revised schedule with 46-minute periods and a 2:30 final bell, and renovations made to the school through referendums and bonds. One of the other changes that was made by principal Mr. Lebb, and may have flown under the radar for many, was the creation of the Principal’s Advisory Council. The council, often shortened to the PAC, is a group of students that meets once a month with Principal Lebb to discuss current issues going on in the school, talk over future plans and proposals by the administration, and get a student perspective on school happenings. I had the chance to sit down with Mr. Lebb and several students on the council about how everything has run in its first school year.

When speaking to Mr. Lebb, he said that the idea for a council of students to speak to the principal did not come from his previous position at Deptford. He instead suggested that the idea sprouted from the fact that “when administrators make decisions, we have to look at it through the student lens, and we need to take that lens into consideration.” The one sole purpose of the PAC was to talk about things going on in school, and let the group be a voice in the student body. Lebb said that “the council is a group for a reason, as sometimes students might be uncomfortable with talking one-on-one”, and the council was created “to be a voice, and a middle man between administrators and students”. 

The process of interviewing potential candidates for the council was pretty simple, according to Lebb: “I just sat down, put together a list of questions, and asked every interested student the same questions.” He also said that 30 students across grades 8-12 were interviewed, and it was a one-on-one interview between him and the student. While Mr. Lebb did say that all 30 of the students that showed interest were all relatively equally qualified, he decided that 30 was too many to fit in one room, and decided to cut the council size in half and accept 15 students out of all the interviewees. Selecting the candidates did not come without difficulty, as he found it difficult to ask students to volunteer their time, with no specific qualifications for selection. He also found it difficult to hand-pick students who represented the “best cross-section of the school”. Despite these difficulties, the turnout of interested students surprised him, as he was shocked that “30 students were willing to sit down with the principal and be interviewed”. 

In regards to settling on a specific format, along with dates, times, and places, Mr. Lebb felt that the process of forming meetings was challenging, as he himself had to deal with his own meetings and conferences among other administrators and teachers. The meetings have been very informal, and in his eyes, has been a feeder for him to relay information from meetings with administrators and asking, “what do the kids think?” and then throwing it all together into an agenda.

While the PAC hasn’t yet seen a pertinent and urgent issue pressed at their meeting, Lebb still believes the council has value, especially after the midterm exams in January. After the exams, which returned to Audubon for the first time in nine years, there were questions about the value of midterms. What the students brought up at the winter PAC meetings was “the biggest thing I brought to the table, and I told [the administration]: ‘this is what the students said’. That’s impactful!” Lebb also said he brought that information back to the teachers at faculty meetings, and that what the students said influenced some opinions. Mr. Lebb later exclaimed, “After all, students are why admins are here!”.

Overall, Mr. Lebb has felt that the meetings in the inaugural year of the PAC have gone great, and said that “students in the council are involved, and [the council] has opened up a big line of communication between students and administrators”. He believes that many administrators get caught up in their own work and “put on blinders” in regards to the student’s viewpoints, but Lebb objects that he is transparents with why decisions are made, and that there are no secrets between him and students. While he couldn’t specifically pinpoint an issue of great magnitude that was brought up at a PAC meeting which was then resolved, he did say that “if there was such an issue, it would be a good platform” for shedding light on a big issue, if it were to arise. He agreed that the PAC helps bring concerns to light in a real and tangible way to generate resolutions.

In terms of what the students themselves said, sophomore and councilman Leo Davis said that “I definitely believe the PAC is a very beneficial group among the school, mostly because it gives student representatives a good say in the school experience [for] students. It was a fantastic new addition, with all the other new people and experiences our school had this year. Also, I believe it is great how [all] of us come from different backgrounds and experiences, therefore diversifying viewpoints on how things should be approached.” Junior Audrey Mitros also said that if invited back, she “would definitely serve on the council next year, because I think that it has been a very good experience for me, and it’s been great to build a relationship with the administration in a positive way. The PAC has helped me feel more comfortable with coming to [the administration] about other topics outside of the meeting as well.”

After the first school year with a Principal’s Advisory Council, Mr. Lebb is confident that he will bring back the council for the 2023-24 school year. While he is certain that the council will return, some questions remain unanswered in regards to whether students who were on the council last year will have to re-apply, and whether the current size of 15 students will roll over into the next school year. Mr. Lebb has also reflected on what changes he can make to the council going forward, including getting more structured meetings together and enacting student leaders. Mr. Lebb said that one of the biggest things that needs to change is scheduling meetings in a more structured and formalized manner, with a better idea of saying “OK, we’re meeting on this date, at this time, in this place.” Lebb also said that appointing student leaders on the council is an effective way to pass along information to the administration if students aren’t comfortable with addressing the principal directly. All in all, as the PAC wraps up its first school year, the future is bright for the council and its impact on the Audubon educational community.