Tenacity lands Westminster senior on Carroll board She's run for offices since freshman year

September 20, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Westminster High School senior Jessica Steelberg jumped headlong into student government the first chance she got, as a freshman in student senate.

Now a senior, she has landed one of the county's most prestigious student government positions -- student representative on the Carroll County Board of Education. She was elected by student government leaders from across the county.

As a freshman elected to one of the more than 100 student senate seats at the school, she promptly ran for senate treasurer against two of the most popular boys in the school.

"Yes, it's very unusual," she said, for a freshman senator to run for an office at all. Jessica said she didn't win, but didn't expect to.

"I figured if I could get my name out, people would know me for the next year," she said.

She ran again as a sophomore, unsuccessfully, but for a higher office -- vice president.

Jessica developed a reputation as being willing to take on responsibilities and volunteer. The effort paid off last spring, when she was elected school board representative.

She votes with the school board, but her vote doesn't count.

"It kind of feels like there's no point in being there," she said. But she can at least voice her opinions and those of other students during board meetings.

"I'd like to have a real vote, which would count," she said. "By the end of the year, I will make a recommendation [that the school board give the student representative a real vote]. I'm researching this."

She's looking at how it's done in other counties. She knows that at least one other student representative -- in Montgomery County -- has a vote that counts.

But she hasn't decided whether students should vote on all issues. For example, she said, she wouldn't feel informed enough to vote on an annual budget or on business matters that may not directly affect students.

Jessica can't vote in elections, either -- she doesn't even turn 17 until Oct. 15. But she's already registered as a Democrat.

"I believe in reducing the deficit, and I think it's going to take raising taxes to do it," she said.

"I'd like to see education be a higher issue. If we can spend all this money on war and defense, we can spend more on education, too."

She likes President Clinton's idea to provide more jobs for teens. She has a job, helping with title searches at the county's public records office in the courthouse.

Jessica supports abortion rights and disagrees with the school board decision a year ago not to distribute "Get Help" cards. A phone number for Planned Parenthood was among the police, health and social service numbers on the card.

That agency provides abortion counseling, and board members voted 3-2 against supplying students with the information.

"It's not a matter of whether I believe abortion is right," she said. "I believe strongly a person should have a choice."

She also supports broad sex education that will inform students not only that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and diseases such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome, but also about preventive methods such as condoms.

One of the most controversial topics before the school board now is the outcomes-based education approach. Jessica said she likes the outcomes approach because it requires teachers to set clear goals for students and to make clear what they must do.

Several parents have sharply criticized the school board for moving toward such a concept, saying it focuses more on behavior at the expense of academics.

"I don't think it's much different from the way [teachers] have been teaching," Jessica said. "I don't think exit outcomes will change the way things are taught. It will just make them more focused."

Jessica said she plans to go to college but isn't sure about a career. She has considered both politics and acting.

The public outcry and sometimes personal attacks at public meetings have made it clear to Jessica that a life in politics would come with much scrutiny.

"I want to be able to live a life without always being under the public eye, and raise a family," Jessica said. "But I guess that's what you have to expect."

Jessica is the daughter of George and Lynn Steelberg of Pinch Valley, north of Westminster. She has a younger sister, Corrie, and an older sister, Dana Sample, lives in White Marsh.

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