Eric Plankey: four years of advocating for student voice

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Provided by Eric Plankey

Eric Plankey attending a Board of Education meeting.

Saanvi Arora, Co-News Editor

It is well-known that the nation’s public education system has room for improvement. This is why senior Eric Plankey has spent the majority of his high school years looking at weaker spots and finding ways to fix them, prioritizing student voice above all else. With his positions as Student Member on the Massachusetts Board of Education, Founder and Director of the Student Union, Chair of WA’s Student Senate, and Chair of the State Student Advisory Council, Plankey is aiming to make a real difference in the field of education reform. 

Plankey gained an interest in education reform when, during his freshman year, he noticed severe budget cuts occurring in Westford, and how they were affecting educators in the district. Plankey watched several of his previous teachers get laid off and wanted to know why this was happening.

“I heard a story of my sixth grade ELA teacher running down the hall crying after she got laid off, and that really stuck with me,” Plankey said. “And so once I peeled back the curtain for myself, I realized that students need to have a say in the educational process. Starting the Student Senate in Westford was the first step.”

WA’s Student Senate is a branch of student government who works towards bringing students into the forefront of the decision making process in their schools. They discuss issues within the school system that they are passionate about, while also meeting with local leaders, like school administrators, school committee members, and selectboard members, so they know what changes the students want made. Over the past year, the Student Senate has been working on summarizing the Student Handbook created by administration into main points and looking at what improvements should be made from feedback given by the students. 

After installing several Student Senates around the state, Plankey helped organize the Student Union of Massachusetts, a coalition of all the Student Senates. The students in the union are dedicated to fighting for local education reform, focusing this year on helping students set up more Student Senates over Massachusetts, and creating a road map to net zero, a step-by-step plan outlining how towns can reduce their carbon emissions to nothing by 2050. 

“Through my positions, I have been able to get connections with teachers unions, community advocates [and other] people who are trying to fundamentally transform education in our state,” Plankey said. “I’ve been able to get those connections and then pass them onto future generations of students. For me, the most important thing is taking the opportunities that I have from this position and bringing them to the next generation of student leaders.”

One of the most notable positions that Plankey holds is being a student member on the Massachusetts Board of Education. With this role, he has full voting rights on any topic being discussed, which he believes is another way to bring students into conversations with the board.

“I think that the student position is something really unique because unlike a lot of the other positions, which are decided by the governor, I have a group of people that I am responsible for,” Plankey said. “I am representing almost a million students all over the state, and I have to keep their interests in mind.”

According to Plankey, he is able to accomplish this goal with the State Student Advisory Council. The idea is to allow for the student member on the Board of Education to bounce around ideas discussed at the board meetings. They also work on creating annual reports breaking down important topics that need to be addressed throughout the state.

“We all know that things can be better in public education, but it’s about having the skills and language necessary to actually make change on those issues,” Plankey said. “For me, having that language is the definition of empowerment. I like to think that’s what we’ve been able to accomplish these past few years in the Student Senate, Student Union, and State Student Advisory Council.”

Additionally, Plankey was able to get the April Board of Education meeting moved to Westford. Plankey is upholding the longstanding tradition of the April or May meeting being held in the district represented by the student member, a practice that has not been done since before COVID-19.

Plankey’s hope for the future is that he will be able to not only work in education reform, but also in labor and economic reform. He hopes to work towards making the country more affordable for the average American worker through unions, worker co-ops, and large-scale political reform. In addition, he will be attending the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY in the fall. Through Cornell’s connection with labor organizations, Plankey believes that this will be the best place for him to accomplish his goals. 

English teacher Kimberly Hart has been involved in Plankey’s journey with education reform since his junior year. Hart believes that if anyone is to take this on, it is Plankey.

“I think Eric is both a deep thinker and a person of action,” Hart said. “I have great admiration for the passion he brings to the issues that interest him because he has taken steps to try and address problems he perceives in this world. I think that he is going to be someone who continues to make an impact on a small scale and a larger scale.”