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BHS senior takes seat on board

By Erika KellyDaily Planet correspondent
Thursday August 16, 2001

Serena Chandler, a Berkeley High School senior, never dreamed she’d be in the chair she’d be seated in Wednesday night, when she would take her place as student director on the Board of Education. 

“My freshman and sophomore year, I never would have imagined myself here. I was totally unplugged from the school. I didn’t see the point of getting involved,” said Chandler, who was born and raised in Berkeley by her parents Patricia and Jeff Chandler. 

Now, as student director, she will be the voice of students in school board debates, a role she is taking over from Niles Xi’an Lichtenstein. 

Chandler doesn’t consider herself “political,” a word she associates with the boring politicians she sees on television who inspire her only to channel surf. Still, she embodies the saying that “all politics is personal.” 

“I’m not a big ‘political’ person, but I care about things that affect my people,” she said. 

Her interest in politics was sparked by local issues and her avid reading of books about the Black Panthers, Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution, among others. 

“Political change is so interesting to me, with so much political oppression in the community. I just put my foot in and it caught me,” said Chandler. 

In the last year, she joined other students to protest the plan to build a youth jail in Dublin, as well as the new truancy policy proposed by BHS Principal Frank Lynch. Chandler credits the truancy debate with inspiring her to run for student director. 

“I wanted to have a greater voice in decision making,” she said. 

Chandler, together with a group of students, felt that the school’s plan to fail students who had a certain number of absences did not deal with the root causes of truancy. 

“It would have punished students instead of educating them,” she said. 

In a presentation before the school board in July, Chandler joined other members of the group Youth Together in proposing an alternative plan to combat truancy, which would provide students with greater support and guidance before punishing them for their absences. 

School board President Terry Doran’s interaction with Chandler convinced him that she is well prepared for her new position. Chandler and the other students impressed Doran with their desire to find solutions to the truancy problem, not just protest the plan. 

“As adults we sometimes forget how our policies will impact students in a concrete way. We may have a tendency to generalize. The student voice brings anything we do some perspective and concrete feedback from the student point of view, and we need that always. I really believe that Serena has the ability and desire to do that in an aggressive and positive way.” 

Among friends and family, Chandler has earned a reputation as a good listener and problem solver, qualities which they believe will help her meet her new responsibilities. 

“I think she’s willing to listen more than talk and do something about what she hears,” said Inga Arguta, 17, Chandler’s best friend. “Every single problem she hears about from a student, she’ll try to change it; if she can’t change it, she’ll try to reason with the student and administrators.” 

Nico Cary, 16, one of Chandler’s three brothers, agrees. 

“She lends an ear to anyone who needs to talk. She can get in that person’s dimension and help them out,” said Cary. 

Chandler has not yet decided what she wants to accomplish during her tenure. Instead, she believes her mission will be informed by student concerns and issues that emerge during the school year. 

“It makes me nervous, honestly, because I’ve never been in that type of setting. It will be a new learning experience. I can’t learn this in a book,” said Chandler before heading off to her first meeting.