Before the 2021 school year even started we at New Voices Texas knew it was going to be a crazy year.
Besides learning how to do school during a pandemic, our student leaders had to adapt to a revised leadership structure, which was expanded from two student officers to six. With the additional student officers, we knew we had to give everyone specific roles so they each had focus areas to accomplish goals for this student-led organization.
Mylo Bissell, NVT’s legislative officer, had his work cut out for him in preparing for Texas’ 87th Legislative Session, which began in January. Regional Organizer Mia Nguyen and Statewide Organizer Katlynn Fox worked to recruit supporters by using digital advocacy tools. Education Officer Keana Saberi and Club Development Officer Cade Spencer developed a New Voices Club Starter Kit to help attract more students to get involved at campuses across the state. Communications Officer Christine Vo stayed busy updating the website, creating graphics and posting on our social media channels.
We were also pleased to offer New Voices Texas t-shirts for sale on Bonfire, giving us a way to ship our merchandise across the state. The 2020-2021 school year also marked the first year in which we operated with a political action committee, enabling us to legally collect and spend money to promote the passage of a New Voices law in Texas. We were fortunate to recruit Sara Flores to serve as the treasurer. This means she does the work of reporting the donations we collect and the money that we spend to the Texas Ethics Commission. It’s tedious paperwork, but spending money is necessary to pay for things like our website and other promotional efforts.
It was a ridiculously difficult year to try to pass a bill through the Texas legislative process, which is tough in a non-pandemic year. With only 140 days, starting in January and ending in May, very few bills make it through the process. This year State Rep. Mary González, filed HB 422 as a New Voices bill. Rep. Harold Dutton, Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, never scheduled a hearing for the bill so it ultimately died when the session ended on May 31.
Although the bill didn’t pass, we found ways to make progress in other ways. Rep. González’s staff helped coordinate a meeting between New Voices Texas and public affairs staff at the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators. During the 2019 legislative session, these organizations have opposed New Voices legislation. This was our first opportunity to explain to them why we believe that a New Voices law will benefit school administrators and school districts by clarifying the roles of everyone involved in the student publication process.
We also started our pledge program in which we asked student publications leaders, administrators and school board members to pledge their support for passage of a New Voices law in Texas. We will use these pledges to create and publish lists of student publications, administrators and school board members who support New Voices in Texas.
Before the school year ended, we recruited a new batch of officers to replace those who graduated. We had another outstanding batch of applicants and we have added six new student leaders and restructured to allow for four regional officers to provide better coverage of the state. We would like to quickly introduce you to these new officers now.
Keana Saberi will continue serving as the Education Officer. She attends Westwood High School in the Round Rock school district. She serves as the editor-in-chief of the Westwood Horizon student newspaper.
Catharine Li is our new Communications Officer. She attends Westwood High School in the Round Rock school district and works as the Arts and Entertainment Editor at the Westwood Horizon student newspaper.
Carey Beth Wooley is our new Legislative Officer. She attends James Bowie High School in the Austin school district and works as a staff writer for the The Dispatch student newspaper.
MaKalie Farmer is our new Club Development Officer and is a Regional Officer coveraging ESC Regions 14, 15, 16, 17,18 and 19 in West Texas. She attends Abilene High School in the Abilene school district. She serves as the editor-in-chief of the The Battery student newspaper.
Kate Knauff is a Regional Organizer covering ESC Regions 9, 10 and 11 in North Texas. She attends Hebron High School in the Lewisville school district. She works for The Hawk Eye student newspaper.
Jessica Gil is a Regional Organizer covering ESC Regions 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 in East Texas. She will also help us produce podcasts for New Voices Texas this year. She attends Bellaire High School in the Houston school district. She serves as a staff writer for the Three Penny Press student newspaper.
Amoli Agarwal is a Regional Organizer for ESC Regions 1, 2, 3, 12, 13 and 20 in Central and South Texas. She attends Westwood High School in the Round Rock school district. She works as news editor for the Westwood Horizon student newspaper.
We are excited to have these new officers carry the fight to pass a New Voices law in Texas forward. We all recognize that this will be a multi-year effort in which we will make progress incrementally over time and we intend to raise awareness and build a coalition that will eventually pass a state law that will cure Hazelwood and provide important protections for student press rights in Texas.