If Josh Michael is appointed to serve on the Maryland State Board of Education, he hopes to get more students involved in important issues affecting the state's public schools.
"I feel I can really make a difference," said the 17-year-old president of the Student Government Association at Centennial High School.
Among the most pressing issues facing the state's schools, according to Michael, are achievement gaps among students of different racial, social and economic backgrounds and Baltimore City schools' educational woes.
Although Michael said he did not "have specifics" to solve the problems, he promised to "provide valuable input" to deal with them if his bid is successful.
"I'm going to send a letter to all the secondary schools and tell them that I need their input," he said. "I hope to have at least 1,000 people to e-mail."
Michael, who is among five finalists for the position, will face off Saturday with his opponents during the legislative session of the Maryland Association of Student Councils at South River High School in Anne Arundel County.
The candidates, who are competing for a one-year term on the board from July 1 through June 30, 2006, will give speeches during the assembly and participate in a question-and-answer session.
The assembly will vote to nominate two candidates, whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s office, where an appointment will be made, said Shawn Stelow, executive director of the state Association of Student Councils.
The other finalists and their schools are: Meghan Haenn, Broadneck High, Anne Arundel County; Kate McComiskey, Fallston High, Harford County; Priya Ramaswamy, Leonardtown High, St. Mary's County; and Gabrielle Wyatt, Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Baltimore County.
Thirteen people serve on the state Board of Education, including state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. The two-day board meetings are held monthly in Baltimore. Members must also attend state board workshops and retreats.
The student member is allowed to vote on all issues except the budget, legal appeals and the removal and reprimand of personnel.
Michael, a junior, said his qualifications for the position include serving as student government president at Centennial.
He also is parliamentarian of the Howard County Association of Student Councils as a policy board member and counselor for Maryland Leadership Workshops. In his role as student government president, he is helping to develop a student government manual for Marriotts Ridge High School, which opens this fall in Marriottsville.
Michael also established a general assembly to represent the student body at Centennial and has supervised activities for homecoming as its chairman.
On the state level, he has been a delegate and conducted workshops for senior high school students through the Maryland Leadership Workshops organization. He is a member of the Maryland Teen Advisory Council, a committee convened by Kendel Ehrlich, the governor's wife, to discuss ways to combat teen alcohol and drug abuse.
"I've met a lot of people ... and have worked with different staff members with experience to see how a school runs," he said.
Michael has a 4.3 weighted grade-point average that takes into account honors courses that carry extra grade points.
Elizabeth Coe, Centennial's student government adviser, said Michael has impressed her with his "dedication, passion and drive to lead his peers at the county and state levels."
"He has a knack for leading any group to a positive outcome and truly accomplish the task at hand," she wrote in a recommendation letter for Michael.
His mother, Cindy Michael, said she is "incredibly proud" of her son. "He is deeply dedicated to empowering the student voice in the educational arena."
She said Michael also knows how to overcome obstacles: "I have watched Josh battle personal adversity [he has had numerous knee and back surgeries that have ended his athletic career]. Instead of being bitter, he has channeled all of his energy into his leadership roles."
As for his plans after high school, Michael said he is leaning toward attending St. Mary's College and becoming a teacher like his father, Warren Michael, who teaches computer science at Centennial.
Josh Michael said he hopes to land a teaching job in Maryland after college.
"Our school system is one of the best in the nation, and I'd love to give back to a school system that has given so much to me," he said.
Here is a list of former Howard County high school students who have served on the Maryland State Board of Education:
Year Name School
1987-88 Kate Stainer Oakland Mills
1992-93 Jamie Kendrick Howard
1998-99 Rebecca Gifford Wilde Lake
2002-03 Caroline Gifford Wilde Lake
Source: Maryland Association of Student Councils