Fairfax High School senior Bridget Gillis said that next year, when she serves on the Fairfax City School Board, her most important question will be when to question.
"To represent yourself and your school, it's important to have a good vocabulary and to be articulate and not to be afraid to speak up when the board is discussing things that will affect you and your classmates," Gillis said. "Of course, it's important to know when not to speak."
Gillis' philosophy on timing and tact seems to have paid off already. In April, her fellow students voted her student representative to the School Board and in May, senior class president, a double victory that Fairfax High School Principal Harry Holsinger called unprecedented.
As student representative to the board, the 16-year-old Gillis will attend the monthly meetings starting in August. The post is advisory and nonvoting.
Her goal is to improve student-School Board communication. "Students say, 'We have to do this because the School Board says so,' " Gillis explained. "I feel there's been no link between students and the School Board.
"Up until now the office has been nonexistent as far as students are concerned. One of my goals is to make it more known to students so that they [know they] have a voice," Gillis said.
She plans to write a regular column about the board's meetings in the student newspaper and to be generally "sensitive to student needs."
Her high school career filled with student activities, Gillis thrives on a busy schedule. Her senior year will not break the pattern: Advanced Placement English and government courses, the school choir and musical productions, soccer, swimming, college applications and two political offices.
"It's going to be tough," Gillis said about her schedule. "I learned this year I was a little overinvolved. The job with the School Board will be one of the prime responsibilities."
Gillis is not only an old hand at juggling extracurricular activities and academics, but she also is no political rookie. In her first year at Fairfax High School she was voted class senator, and was elected class vice president in her sophomore year. She served on a countywide Student Advisory Counsel.
With many of her friends working in student government, and with a civic-minded family, "I run with a pretty politically oriented crowd. My mom is real involved in city schools," Gillis said.
Principal Holsinger said Gillis is both a popular and a responsible student, a role model. In voting for the School Board post, "Our students look for someone who's popular and likable. One thing I notice is when they vote someone into a high office they select someone they can depend on to get the job done," Holsinger said.
Board Chairman Janice Miller lauded the students' choice in electing Gillis, and said the job is significant because, "in many ways the School Board is operating a business. But having a student on the board reminds you what you're here for."