Montgomery County school board members will find themselves sitting opposite another seasoned politican at the big, round conference table in Rockville beginning July 1. Already, the new board member has several years of experience in school matters, both in the county and at the state level.
She is Traci Williams, 17, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, who says she is prepared to spend five hours a day tackling the cumbersome issues before the board.
Williams last week received a first ballot majority of votes from student delegates in the race to be next year's non-voting student representative to the board. She defeated six male opponents, winning 116 of the 205 votes cast.
Williams, who says her school workload will be one or two courses lighter to give her more time for the board, believes she can "have an effect on the board and on the school system."
She will be the board's only black member.
Williams has been a regular observer of board meetings in the past and has been privy to the thoughts of her predecessors along the way. She has known David Naimon, the first student board member, for five years, and Jonathan Paul, the outgoing representative, for two.
"They told me you have to understand the kinds of things the board deals with and you have to be responsible in the kinds of things you bring to them," said Williams.
Both Naimon and Paul have been the subject of animosity during their one-year terms, especially from members of the board's conservative majority. They have complained of being ignored.
"To them, I am just background noise," Paul has said.
Williams said Naimon and Paul have "told me about their voices not being considered."
Nevertheless, she believes that, in some ways, she will be able to move the board during her tenure.
"I think I can really have an effect on the board and on the school system.
I think the experience I have and being able to relate to people will help me. It would be senseless for me to go in with a very negative attitude."
"I personally don't feel they've been ignored," outgoing board chairman Daryl Shaw said of past student members. "They may feel that way because they don't have a vote." And of Williams, Shaw says: "I think she's probably the most enlightened of all the students possible."
The daughter of a father who is president of the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington, and a mother who is head of the public relations department at the United Planning Organization, also in Washington, Williams has been politically active since she left elementary school.
She was president of her seventh and eighth grade classes at Thomas W. Pyle Junior High, as well as school president in ninth grade. She also served as vice president of the county's Junior Council. In 10th grade she was vice president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils and was, this year, its president.
"I do a lot of traveling around," she said.
Though in theory a representative of all students in the county, Williams will bring to the board primarily the concerns of high school students.
"Most of the issues the board deals with are high school issues," she said.
High on her agenda is the board's new high school policy. Williams plans to fight against some of its rules.
"I agree with the board that they should try to crack down on discipline," she said. "I don't believe that unexcused absences should have any effect of your grade."
She also questions the proposal for standardized final exams.
"What are these exams for? The whole policy of implementing them has to be very well done. I'm not sure a test like this can be effective in just one year."
And she thinks drug education programs should begin in the elementary grades. How much the board will care what she thinks, however, is a question past experiences would answer unfavorably.
"Basically it's a matter of doing your reserach," said Williams, "and getting the public on your side. You have to do a lot of lobbying."