The Minneapolis school board will seat its 10th member Tuesday: a 16-year-old student from Patrick Henry High School.
Noah Branch, a sophomore, will serve as the first student representative on the board that oversees the state’s third-largest school district. His appointment comes after the school board approved a measure to add a student representative late last year.
“This is a great opportunity and a role that is almost necessary but evidently hasn’t been there,” Branch said. “It’ll be vital for the district as a whole. I hope I don’t let anybody down.”
His appointment is an effort by the district and the school board to give students a greater say in the issues that most affect them — everything from budgets to school start times.
Although Branch will not have a vote on the board, his opinion will help shape policy and lead discussions, said Board Member Josh Reimnitz, who will serve as Branch’s mentor.
“It’s a great way to strengthen our connection with what’s going on in Minneapolis Public Schools,” Reimnitz said.
Branch was selected by a five-member committee from a pool of seven applicants. He was out sick when his student council group discussed the new seat and whether or not anyone should apply. When he returned to school, his student council adviser said the group had unanimously decided that Branch should apply.
He is still trying to familiarize himself with issues the board is dealing with.
On Tuesday, he will be front and center for a significant one. The board will vote to move forward with hiring a consultant to find a new superintendent. In March, it will vote on a new budget, which can be a testy time.
Branch says he’ll strive to speak for all students. He will take issues in front of the board back to the citywide student council organization. “I want to hear a lot about what other students have to say and bring their ideas to the board,” he said.
While growing up in north Minneapolis near Folwell Park, Branch developed a strong interest in chemistry and Spanish. He said his Spanish teacher, Jocelyn Lovick, encouraged him to join student council. He often spends his lunch breaks with her talking about challenges at the school, curriculum and broader social issues.
Branch is one of the most vocal members of his student council. He knows this quality can sometimes bring trouble.
“I will surely let my opinion be heard, which could be detrimental to me or controversial,” Branch said. “I am not afraid to challenge things.”
When a Ferguson, Mo., grand jury decided not to charge the police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager, the students staged a sit-in at the school. They were eventually invited to the school’s theater to talk about the events that had unfolded and how this was affecting them.
Branch said students and others spoke about working within the systems in place and “conforming.” Branch said one student told others to stop wearing saggy pants and “stop being loud.”
“They weren’t necessarily untrue things, but I said, ‘Why do we feel the need to change who we are?’ Why can’t we challenge the systems in place and be our own successful people?’ ”
Lovick, Branch’s Spanish teacher, said Branch’s ability to challenge social norms and be a leader will serve him well on the board.
“He has this voice that is wise beyond his 16 years,” Lovick said. “Whether it’s with his peers or adults, he is able to reach and speak to people in a way that is affirming.”
Reimnitz said he hopes Branch does not shy away from speaking out about the challenges that students face and the ideas that they bring.
“There should be a confidence and willingness to share what is actually happening,” Reimnitz said. “He should be confident enough to be really honest even though it’s not a popular decision.”