Nathan Stump

Principal Nathan Stump introduces the Mifflin Elementary student council.

MADISON -- Grady Davis took his place before the board of education, a copy of his brief speech clasped in both hands. There was a moment of quiet as he looked up at the microphone looming nearly six inches above his head. 

His teacher, Brittany Farley stepped in, unwound the cord from the stand and handed it to him. Then he smiled and confidently introduced himself. 

“My name is Grady Davis and I’m the vice-president of Mifflin Elementary Student Council,” he said.

Davis was one of 19 student council representatives to address the board of education during its monthly meeting Wednesday. The students told the board about the founding of council, the election process and other happenings at Mifflin.

It's not the first time students have addressed the board. It is the first year Mifflin has had a student council.

“We had students that wanted leadership roles and we wanted to give them an outlet to have those opportunities at school,” Principal Nathan Stump said.

The council includes 25 students between kindergarten and fourth grade. Teachers appointed representatives from the kindergarten, first and second grade classes. Third and fourth graders had to run for office. Those interested in the office of president, vice president or secretary also had to campaign.

Preston Patrick was elected president.

“It was a very positive experience for our kids,” Stump said. “They were very respectful. They honored one another when they had to give their speeches. It's not easy for an elementary student to stand up in front of their peers to give a speech, but they did a wonderful job and really blew us all away with what they were doing.”

Council had its first meeting in October and plans to meet once or twice a month during the school day, advisor Brittany Farley said.

“They like having a say and being able to help determine some of the things that are going to go on in their school this year," she said. “They have all these great ideas and they get to kind of put them to use and work together.”

Each meeting starts by reviewing the topics of the last meeting and going over any updates. Council is currently discussing ideas for holiday activities at Mifflin and how they might help out around the school.

“I think the kids do a really good job too of reaching out beyond student council to get the opinions and perspectives of their peers,” Stump said. “They don't just limit it to their group and I'm really proud of them for how they've reached out to include others in the process.”

Besides giving students a voice, Stump believes council is a great educational opportunity. 

“It's such a good interdisciplinary connection between social studies and English Language Arts,” he said. “The kids are not only focusing on presentation standards or writing standards, but also seeing government in action.”

Farley agreed. 

“It was very authentic learning for them to write the speeches, campaign and get in front of their peers,” Farley said. “They have a lot of fun and they're learning more about how to help others, how to help their communities, so there's all kinds of different things that come into it.”

Contract negotiations continue 

Wednesday's meeting was well attended, not only by elementary students, but by members of the Madison Local Education Association (MLEA).

Spokesperson Josh Boliantz estimated that about 20 percent of the district's employees attended the meeting, all wearing red shirts in a show of solidarity.

Members tied red ribbons around the handrails in the cafeteria. A few hung a sign from the balcony that read 'You Can't Put Students First If You Put Teachers Last.'

MLEA members also set up a display of canned goods in the back of the middle school cafeteria. Teachers were asked to bring one item for every $20 of their own money spent this school year on items for their classroom. 

The items will be donated to needy families in the Madison area. 

Members of the MLEA have been working without a contract since July, according to a press release sent out earlier this month. The Madison Local School Board declared an impasse in negotiations on Sept. 29.

The union has since implemented a work-to-contract measure, meaning they will work only during the hours laid out in their previous contract and not take work home with them or cover for employees who are out sick. 

“This was not a decision we came to lightly. This is difficult on everyone,” said Boliantz, the ninth and tenth grade woodshop teacher.

Boliantz stated earlier this month that the union is "disappointed in the board’s unwillingness to put students first as we hammer out the details of a successor contract."

Supt. Rob Peterson said the board and administration respects and supports the district's teachers and the job they do in the community.

"I also believe very strongly that the board, administration, teachers, non-teaching staff, everyone in the Madison Local School District puts our students first and cares deeply for our students," Peterson said. "We need to continue to work together and do what's best for our children."

Representatives from both sides declined to comment on the status of negotiations, per the previous agreement between the board and the MLEA.

The board voted on various agenda items at the meeting. After meeting in executive session, the board chose to accept the superintendent's recommendation to deny a grievance by the district's OAPSE union, which represents non-teaching staff members.

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie@richlandsource.com