Dan McConkie Jr. said he was surprised when he was picked to be the student representative on the Salt Lake City Board of Education - and maybe a little taken aback.
"I knew I had a chance, but it kind of hit me - `I'm on the Board of Education now. What am I going to do?' "But McConkie's a fast learner and his efforts to take part and speak up for students didn't go unnoticed.
His adult counterparts on the school board trust him so much they took the unprecedented step of letting him participate in job interviews with applicants for the superintendent of schools. That ultimately resulted in the hiring of the new superintendent, Darline Robles from the Los Angeles area.
School board President Mary Jo Rasmussen said she had no qualms about letting the 16-year-old East High School student be involved in something as sensitive as hiring a superintendent.
"Not only was he there for the interviews, he also asked questions. We're very site-based in our management and part of the shared governance process is to hear from students," Rasmussen said. "We felt it was important to have a student's perspective, and Dan's, in particular, right from the very start."
Rasmussen said she and McConkie had a long talk about the need for confidentiality and what the district was looking for in a candidate, but she had no doubts about his maturity or ability to cope with the situation.
"He's very bright, he's very articulate," she said. "He brings a student perspective to all facets of the discussion, whether it's a budget item or a personnel item. He always has a very astute comment."
McConkie is the son of attorney Dan McConkie and homemaker Elizabeth Wirthin McConkie.
The younger McConkie plans to become a lawyer, too, but said his stint as a non-voting member of the school board has sparked an interest in academia.
"Before I was on the school board, I never thought of being an educator, but this has kind of opened my eyes," McConkie said. "Down the road, who knows? I'd probably want to work in colleges or curriculum, something really diverse. I don't know how well I could handle teaching the same thing every day.
"My grandfather was president of the school board for a while. Maybe I'll run for the school board when I'm a little bit older," he said.
Grandfather Oscar McConkie was president of the Salt Lake City School Board and the Utah State Board of Education. He also served as Utah Senate president and from 1965-66 was Utah's acting governor.
Dan McConkie Jr., who has a 4.0 grade point average, plans to attend the University of Utah, but later would like to go to another school, possibly the University of Chicago. "It's good to get a perspective outside of Utah," he said. "That was one of the good things about the interviews for superintendent - they all had different perspectives and great accomplishments."
The two major problems facing the district right now are not enough money and ethnic tensions, he said.
"Funding is obviously a problem, and with every dollar, we're just trying to push it as far as possible," he said. "When I first came on, I couldn't believe how long the meetings are, but now I see why, because it's important that you spend the money right."
It also is important to have proper programs and help for minority students. "There are a lot of problems dealing with minorities, and the district is trying to provide for their needs. John Florez (another board member temporarily filling a term) has done a great job shedding some light on those and bringing them to our attention," McConkie said.
McConkie still has nine more months on the board and said he enjoys working with the adult members. "They put a lot of confidence in me, actually, even though I'm a newcomer," he said. "They listen, they give me an opportunity to present my ideas and they've been very gracious."
Still, he adds, "I've got a lot to learn."
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