Last year, Kate Stainer was a key lieutenant for the student council president in her high school. But when opportunity knocked, Stainer decided to forsake the wheeling and dealing of the student council in chalkdust-filled rooms for the arena of state school board politics.

Stainer, 17, who will be a senior this year at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, was chosen by Gov. William Donald Schaefer from 200 high school applicants to sit as student member on the Maryland State Board of Education for the coming school year.

She is only the third student to be named to the board, and the first from Howard County.

Although she took her seat last month, Stainer has been preparing herself since being named in February to tackle the job by attending the board's meetings and keeping up with its reading.

"Kate didn't take a wait-and-see attitude," said Skipp Sanders, the special assistant to the board. "She jumped right into it with both feet and both hands.

"I think she has really won the confidence of all the board members," he added.

Stainer, who has a 3.5 grade point average (she is a member of the National Honor Society), takes on her added responsibilities while juggling assorted extracurricular activities (cross country, swim team, summer league lacrosse and B'nai B'rith Girls), as well as working 15 hours a week in a convenience store in Columbia. And then there's the matter of the mail to attend to.

"My mailman must hate me," Stainer said, referring to the large volume of packages she receives from the state education department for review before each board meeting.

The student member position is a nonvoting one, yet Stainer believes her presence on the board will be far from ineffectual.

"I don't have any fear that {other board members} won't listen to me . . . . They are eager to hear what I have to say," Stainer said. Aside from that, she enjoys the same privileges and access as any other board member. "Although I don't have a vote, I can express my feelings on a certain issue and it would be just like a vote," she said.

Besides attending board meetings during the last week of every month, Stainer will travel with her fellow members to several conventions in Maryland and attend the National Asociation of State Boards of Education convention in Kentucky during October. She also hopes to visit as many Maryland schools as possible to see firsthand what issues they are interested in.

Two "pet" issues Stainer wants to address during her tenure are "at-risk" students (those who are in danger of failing and not completing their schooling) and values education.

"I have just as much responsibility to 'at-risk' kids as I do to people who are going to make it on their own -- probably more so, because they're overlooked," Stainer said.

She stressed that while she has not developed specific proposals for this group, "I like to represent people who don't have a voice."

As for values education, Stainer believes that "if things aren't that great at home, then school is the next best thing" for instilling a sense of right and wrong in students.

When Stainer took her seat for the first time last month, the principal of Oakland Mills, Sue Ann Tabler, showed up and presented her with a bouquet of flowers (in school colors, of course). "I really appreciated it," Stainer said.

According to Sanders, Tabler was instrumental in starting the student board member program three years ago, when she was the executive director for the Maryland Association of Student Councils. Having Stainer, one of her own students, serve in the position is particularly meaningful.

"Kate is very bright and is going to add a great deal to the deliberations" of the board, Tabler said. "She is someone with her head in the sky, yet with both her feet on the ground. I think she will be a valuable resource to the board."