For the first time in nearly two decades, the Philadelphia School District will have a student at the table as its governing body makes the decisions that affect 200,000 students.
Actually, there will be two.
Officials announced Tuesday that Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò will become the first student members of the new Philadelphia Board of Education. The School Reform Commission, which the local board replaced on July 1, did not have any student members during its 17-year run.
Both of the new members, who will take an oath of office at Thursday's school board meeting, are 17 and high school seniors; Frank attends Northeast High and Praticò goes to Masterman. School district officials were initially planning to choose a member and an alternate, but decided given the scope of the job, it was wise to have two full-fledged members.
Frank and Praticò are not voting members of the board, and they will be excluded from executive sessions, where legal and personnel matters are discussed, but they will read, review and weigh in on all other matters the nine-member panel considers. They've already got the inches-thick briefing books for Thursday's meeting to prove it, they said.
"It's not a full, top-secret clearance to everything, but we're still very much treating this as if we're one of the nine members," Praticò said.
The two will have real work on their plate, officials have promised: In addition to attending board meetings, Frank and Praticò are preparing for a schedule of school visits, roundtables, and social media responsibilities.
They see themselves as both keeping board members grounded in school-level realities and in taking news of district opportunities, policies, and even challenges back to their peers.
"We're the binding factor between the board and the students," said Frank.
The job was open to high school juniors or seniors in district or charter schools, and 54 applied, with a board-chosen committee of adults and students settling on Praticò and Frank after multiple interviews.
Applying was a natural for Praticò, the first president of the district's citywide student government, who has also served as a Philadelphia Youth Commissioner and a member of Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s student advisory council; he has testified before City Council on behalf of the district, written about funding issues in schools, and co-authored a student-written handbook for new teachers.
Frank said she raised her hand because speaking for students across the city seemed like an incredible opportunity.
"The big thing that I really want to advocate for is regardless of the school that you go to, that resources are balanced," said Frank, the daughter of a teacher and a lawyer, who attends the city's largest school, works at a pizza shop, and is an entrepreneur — she founded a company selling her own lip balm.
"When I've talked about some of the programs that I've done, I've had students say, 'Oh, I would have done that had I known it was available,' said Frank. "What if you don't have enough counselors to apply to college? That's an issue at my school — it's so huge."
Though no charter student was selected for the board, both student members say they aim to represent their interests, too. (Frank attended Independence Charter School, in Center City, and her siblings are still enrolled there.)
Their responsibility feels weighty, both said, not just because of the gravity of the position, but because of their personal lives, with classes and college applications.
Praticò, the child of a medical professor and a stay-at-home mother, wants to study political science or economics; his top college choices are Yale and Princeton. Frank plans to study biochemistry with an eye toward becoming a surgeon; her dream school is Stanford.
Though it's still early days for the new, local board of education, the two know meetings can get heated. Frank and Praticò say they hope to hang in, and to affect change.