Young and in charge: NJ school boards get a jolt of youth
For many students, when they leave high school, it's the last time they have any involvement with the district. But a select few hang around and see what kind of difference they can make for the future.
That process starts with joining the local school board. A number of panels across New Jersey are dotted with college-age residents - some of whom have made their way into leadership roles.
New Jersey 101.5 caught up with a couple of young men, just a few years out of high school, that now serve as president of their local board of education.
At 20 years old earlier this month, Adam Parkinson of West New York became one of New Jersey's youngest school board presidents ever.
He initially joined the West New York Board of Education at age 18, filling a prematurely-vacated seat, and quickly realized the board needed a jolt of youth.
"You have an idea of what the students in our school district want and what they need," Parkinson said in a phone interview. "Why? Because you were in their position not that long ago."
Parkinson said he's made it a priority to interact directly with the people he serves after learning that previous board members rarely visited schools in the past.
"I didn't understand how people voted on resolutions and agenda items if they've never seen our schools," he said. "I made it my objective and a main focus of mine to go into the schools."
Parkinson landed the presidential role following a 7-2 board vote at the Jan. 6 reorganization meeting. He served as vice president the year before.
Forty-five miles away, a 21-year-old was internally elected as school board president a couple days prior.
Anthony Fasano is now balancing a job, his senior year at Montclair State University and the role of president for the Hopatcong Board of Education.
"It kind of dawned on me in high school that I could bring a perspective to the board of education that was missing, and that was somebody who sat through a modern high school classroom, and somebody who sits in a modern college classroom today," Fasano told New Jersey 101.5.
Fasano said when he walked off the field with his Hopatcong High School diploma in 2012, he took with him an educational experience that he'd love to duplicate or improve upon for future graduates.
Fasano originally won a seat on the board at 19 years old after serving as class president. He also currently serves on MSU's board of trustees.
When asked if he's a politician in the making, Fasano insisted that's not on his mind at all. He said he joined the board because he truly felt he was a better fit than anyone else.
"I made a promise to my community that I wasn't going to leave until I felt like we were on the right track and headed in the right direction, and that could take 3 years or 33 years," Fasano said.