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Safety legislation signing at Smoky Hill aligns with CCSD student advisory insights

Sen. Janet Buckner, Gov. Jared Polis, student Kaney Herron and others at Smoky Hill High School on May 19.Kanye Herron officially graduated from Endeavor Academy on May 20, but he will leave a lasting legacy on Cherry Creek Schools long after his official stint as a student in the district.

Herron was one of the inaugural members of the district’s Superintendent Student Advisory Council, a group of CCSD high school students formed in 2020 that has offered feedback to district leaders, including Superintendent Christopher Smith. In his role as a student advisor, Herron drew on the challenges and observations from his own lived experience to bring positive changes to the district, including measures aimed at increasing safety for students across its 108 square miles.

“I want to help my community, and I want to make a change,” Herron said during a formal bill signing ceremony held at Smoky Hill High School on May 19. “I’m here to help. I’m here to be that change.”

Herron had the chance to share that mission and that perspective not only with district leaders during the ceremony, but also legislators and policy makers from across Colorado, including Gov. Jared Polis. Herron stood alongside Polis, State Senator Janet Buckner, State Representative Naquetta Ricks, Centennial City Council Member Marlo Alston and other Colorado leaders as the governor signed legislation aimed at increasing safety and security measures across Colorado.

It was only the latest sign that the work of Herron and his peers on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council is sending a message that’s reaching leaders in the district and beyond. In the past two years, the group has offered invaluable insights regarding serious issues, including mental and social/emotional health resources, violence prevention among teens and other issues that have a direct impact on students across the district.

Sen. Buckner was one of many officials who gave Herron and his peers credit for their work in bringing issues to the forefront.

“(Kanye) helped come up with the concept of a leadership program,” Buckner noted. “He’s here to teach us; he and his peers are pointing the way to our future.”

Among the programs that the Superintendent’s Council helped initiate was the Summer Leadership Academy, an initiative that will launch this summer and that will see high school students working directly for Cherry Creek Schools in the coming months. The program will offer real-world work and industry opportunities, even as it incorporates feedback, insights and student voice into the everyday operation of the district.

“Here in the Cherry Creek School District, we live by five core values: Growth Mindset, Equity, Whole Well-Being, Engagement and Relationships. I truly believe that this program hits every one of those values,” said CCSD Superintendent Christopher Smith. “We believe all students can achieve, and I think with this Leadership Academy, we’re putting our money where our mouth is … We’re committed to leaning in and giving our students the resources they need.”

Before signing the “Crime Prevention Through Safer Streets” legislation in the Smoky Hill library on May 19, Polis gave direct credit to Herron and his peers in the advisory council. Their commitment to offering guidance and providing district leaders with direction has been an inspiration for the rest of the state, he said, pointing to the bill that provides $10 million in ramping up safety resources across the state.Members of the Superintendent Student Advisory Council and district leaders at Smoky Hill High School on May 19.

“Sometimes it’s simple things that can make a difference. That’s exactly what this bill does – it funds the safe design of the physical environment to help reduce crime,” Polis said. “Through their work with the Summer Leadership Academy, Cherry Creek Schools is breaking down barriers and equipping the students with the tools they need to succeed.”

For Herron, who faces another phase of growth and evolution after his graduation from the district, the ceremony was a fitting tribute to all of the challenges he’s overcome and all of the goals he’s met over the past four years. He spoke about the value of being able to add his voice to the discussions at the top levels of leadership and administration in the district and beyond; he spoke about his determination to revisit classrooms and offer guidance after his time in CCSD has ended.

Herron and his peers know that their experiences can serve as the guidepost to future generations; that their lived experiences can help Cherry Creek Schools become a better place. The day before his graduation from high school, Herron had the chance to see firsthand how he could affect positive change.

“Everybody makes mistakes; I’ve made my own mistakes,” Herron said. “But I’m here to show everyone that we can build something together.”

-- Posted 5/23/22 at 3 PM