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Student First: SURFBoardE Brings Student Voice to Boardroom and Beyond
Posted 12/2/22
Members of the Students United for Representation to the Fremont Unified School District Board of Education (SURFBoardE)holding resolutions

For over 40 years, Fremont Unified School District’s Board of Education has included a Student Board Member. 

“Students are our future, and we must be made a priority today in order to ensure that we’re prepared to be the citizens and decision makers of tomorrow,” said current Student Board Member Sissi Zhang, a senior at Irvington High School. 

Zhang is part of the Students United for Representation to the Fremont Unified School District Board of Education (SURFBoardE); its members serve as liaison between all FUSD students and the Board of Education, and represent the student voice at a district level.

three students holding large printed resolutions in a boardroom
The 2022-23 and two most previous FUSD Student Board Members at a May 2022 Board meeting. From left: Sissi Zhang (2022-23), Tushar Dalmia (2021-22), Zayaan Khan (2020-21).

“Having our students in advising roles and represented in Board conversations and votes is critical to the success and credibility of the decisions we make for the District,” said Board President Dianne Jones. “It has been my great honor to serve with truly outstanding student representatives since I joined the Board.”

Per FUSD’s Board Bylaws, the student Board member represents themself and all students in open session Board meeting discussions, may make motions on non-personnel items, and in compliance with California Education Code 35012, casts preferential votes which are recorded in the minutes but do not affect the final vote tally.

group of students with adult holding signs
SURFBoardE members, with advisor Amy Perez, in May 2022.

SURFBoardE is composed of three representatives from each comprehensive high school and one representative from Robertson High School. The group meets regularly to discuss and coordinate action to resolve student issues, and plan events that center student engagement and cultivate future generations of student leaders. 

SURFBoardE hosts an annual District Representatives Conference (DRC), where its representatives teach elementary school students across FUSD important leadership, advocacy and community-building skills. 

Empowering students from early grades to advocate for their needs is important, because, as Zhang notes: “Sometimes student opinions are disregarded because of our age.”

“An important responsibility for all of us who serve students is listening and being responsive to their questions and concerns,” said FUSD Superintendent CJ Cammack. “SURFBoardE provides an excellent and supportive path for students to communicate their needs and expectations to district-level and elected leaders, while helping students develop and use their voice effectively as individuals and together as our district’s most important constituency.”

headshot of Sissi Zhang
Fremont Unified School District 2022-23 Student Board Member Sissi Zhang.

“It’s incredibly difficult to ignore a large group of students all rallying for change,” said Zhang, whose advocacy and leadership goes beyond FUSD; she is the Policy Director at GENup, a nationwide, student-led education advocacy organization, and she was a top three finalist for California’s State Board of Education student seat in 2022. 

“I thought it was a great opportunity to advocate for educational change at the state level, especially since it’s a full voting position,” said Zhang of the State student board member (SBM) seat. “My overarching goals were to increase accessibility to equitable education and provide additional opportunities for student engagement through methods such as clear credit consolidation guides, a youth advisory council for the state SBM, and infographics on state policies.”

Zhang values the platform leadership provides, noting it “expedites the rate at which my ideas can be transitioned into action.” She also enjoys meeting new people working toward a common cause.

Through their collective advocacy and action, current and previous SURFBoardE members have made meaningful changes to keep FUSD aligned or ahead of other districts on emerging issues and trends. For example, in recent years SURFBoardE led successful efforts to recognize mental health days as excused absences, pass a Student Bill of Rights, and shift FUSD’s school calendar earlier to have finals before winter break.

SURFBoardE also coordinates student representatives being seated on a number of District committees to sustain students’ involvement in decisions, and offers students other ways to get involved. 

Planning is underway now for SURFBoardE’s next student event, an open forum in January 2023.

“We’ll cover items ranging from campus environment to diversity and inclusion,” said Zhang about the forum. “Any student can join the forum, voice concerns, and provide suggestions.”

an Instagram post about FUSD acronyms
A recent post from SURFBoardE on Instagram.

More information on SURFBoardE’s forum, upcoming applications for 2023-24 members, an open feedback form for students, and much more can be found at SURFBoardE also posts regular updates, helpful guides and student leadership opportunities on Instagram and Facebook.

As for Zhang, she will graduate this year and plans to continue using her voice to make change.

“In the short term, I hope to continue my work in educational advocacy and pass some of the bills that I have been working on in collaboration with GENup, such as those that allow student board members to have a full voting position,” said Zhang. “I also hope to eventually pursue a career in healthcare and would like to serve on the hospital board to advocate for accessible and high-quality patient care. Of course, I’m also interested in serving as a school board trustee again.”



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