Colleagues Say Tenacity, Diplomacy Were Strengths of Student School Board Member
Richard Montgomery graduate provided catalyst for countywide boundary study
Ananya Tadikonda, outgoing student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, speaks during a board meeting in Rockville.
Photo via MCPS
Called the “most impactful student member” to hold a position on the county Board of Education, Ananya Tadikonda on Tuesday took her seat at the board table for the final time.
Tadikonda, who graduated last week from Richard Montgomery High School, ended her one-year term with a slate of achievements to add to her resume, according to her colleagues.
Most notable, they say, was her initiative to commission a countywide school boundary analysis in an effort to relieve crowded schools and break up concentrations of white and minority students.
“It reminded me of [House of Representatives Speaker] Nancy Pelosi in terms of her tenacity,” said board member Jeanette Dixon, who sat next to Tadikonda at the board table. “She’s full of passion and I think the (boundary study) resolution she put forward was long overdue.”
When Tadikonda, 18, introduced the idea to her fellow board members, she received some pushback and it appeared she wouldn’t get the required five votes to pass the resolution, which directed the school system to hire a consultant to review school boundaries.
Tadikonda began her work behind the scenes to modify her proposal and lobby for her colleagues’ support.
“I’d estimate I spent between 20 and 25 hours on the phone with my board colleagues over two days, but I was steadfast and confident in representing the student voice in this,” Tadikonda said.
Tadikonda also was the first student board member to serve as a chairperson of a board committee, and said doing so was one of the high points of her tenure helping to lead one of the country’s largest school systems.
Her work wasn’t always easy – Tadikonda often offered differing opinions on policy issues – but was able to maintain close relationships with each board member, she said.
Tadikonda doesn’t drive and often relied on public transportation or her colleagues for rides to and from meetings and events, creating opportunities for conversations beyond the board room, about life and history and her aspirations.
“She has been focused like a laser beam on issues as they affect our students, and she has been an outstanding voice for students,” Dixon said. “One of the joys of my service on the board has been the opportunity to get to know her and sit next to her at board meetings.”
The student representative on the eight-member school board, elected by middle and high school students, has full voting rights on issues including the school system’s budget and personnel matters.
Although largely pleased with her successes on the board, Tadikonda said she was disappointed she was unable to make definitive progress in an initiative she led to allow students three days of excused absences to attend civic engagement events like protests or lobbying.
“It’s a little frustrating and confusing, but with that being said, I know the board has a lot of moving parts … so I’ll look forward to Nate [Tinbite, elected next student board member] being another strong advocate on that,” Tadikonda said.
One of two female student board members in the past 10 years, Tadikonda was a “tremendous role model for both girls and women,” according to former school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse, who served as a mentor for Tadikonda.
“She was never intimidated, but always respectful,” Ortman-Fouse said. “Where others might have felt like they need to be polite and can’t contribute because they don’t want to ask too many questions or bother anyone, she knew she was dealing with serious issues. Even if it made her very uncomfortable … she kept pushing for the people she was standing up for.”
Tadikonda plans to study health policy and management and biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, obtain a master’s and eventually work as a physician. She would like to later study global health equity and how health disparities manifest in American society.
In her future endeavors, Tadikonda said she will carry with her lessons learned while on the Board of Education.
“I learned a lot about myself and how systems work, and how much it takes to put together public services that truly meet the needs of all people,” Tadikonda said. “There’s still so, so much work to do in this world, not only in the field of education, but across the board, and we need more people willing to get their hands dirty and do it. I hope to be one of those people.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com