ExCo Elections 2020: Academics Candidates

With ExCo elections on the horizon, Junto asked the candidates for each position to tell us about how they would respond to a pressing HKIS issue, as well as describe their biggest policy initiative for next year. Below are the responses from the Senator of Academics candidates, Agastya Rao (11),  Clara Kim (11), Irene Park (10), and Andy Fang (10). Unfortunately, Allison Lee (10) did not respond when we reached out.


Unfortunately, teachers sometimes do not follow all of HKIS’ academic guidelines, particularly in regards to testing. How would you support students who feel that their teacher is in violation of these rules?


Agastya Rao
Any student whose teacher violates the academic guidelines detailed in the academic handbook has the right to speak up, and in fact, should speak up. If I am elected to be your next senator of academics, you can count on me to ensure that none of you will have to deal with academic stress that can be easily avoidable if teachers are to follow the school’s academic guidelines. I’ll always be available for you guys to voice any concerns; if you think that a teacher is assigning too many summatives in quick succession, for example, please feel free to talk to me and I will relay your concerns to staff and the admin. I understand that many of you may not be comfortable with directly confronting teachers or Mr. Brayko if you feel that any academic guidelines are being violated or if you just feel that life is becoming too academically stressful.  That’s why I’ll be there for you guys! I’m a friendly person, and you can talk to me whenever you feel like it! My duty, as your senator of academics, will be to listen to you guys and communicate your concerns to the admin so that action is readily taken.
In addition, one of my goals is to talk to teachers at the beginning of the next school year to ensure that each one of them is fully aware of the pertinent academic guidelines. My hope is to emphasize to them that these guidelines are listed in the academic handbook and that they should never violate them over the course of the year. Some of these guidelines have been put in place to promote student well-being, and I will make sure to communicate to teachers that they should respect these guidelines. If, for some reason, you still think that your teacher is violating any of the academic guidelines, there’s no need to worry as you can easily contact me and you can rely on me to resolve your concerns.  

Clara Kim
I realize that this is a serious academic issue at HKIS. Some teachers do not alert students of a summative early enough, some do not post rubrics, and some may not provide any constructive feedback on summative work. These violations of the academic guidelines must be held accountable, and a new initiative I want to implement in response is to open an individual Instagram page. Apart from viewing updates about my activities, students can also use this platform to directly talk to me about these issues. I would try my best to voice their concerns either privately to Mr. Brayko or to department heads during faculty meetings and inform the students what action has been taken to remedy the violations. Moreover, I think violations occur mainly because some academic guidelines are not set in stone. I plan to either edit the current Academic Handbook to include more explicit guidelines or create a smaller edition for testing policies. That would make it easier to hold teachers accountable for their actions.

Irene Park
Unfortunately, teachers sometimes do not follow all of HKIS’ academic guidelines, particularly in regards to testing. How would you support students who feel that their teacher is in violation of these rules?
It goes without saying that it is crucial for teachers and students alike to keep in line with the academic guidelines, but in the case that they are breached, I highly doubt that there are any ill-intentions behind it.
I think the most common reason why some teachers fail to follow the academic guidelines and why students don’t feel confident in voicing this, is because we are collectively unsure of the guidelines themselves. They are likely either unaware that certain rules are being broken or students aren’t confident of a policy to base their complaint on.
Therefore, these policies need to be reinforced throughout the school in order for them to work effectively. One way to do this is to annually remind the teachers of the academic policies, which I think would be especially beneficial for new teachers who would be rather unfamiliar with the policies. As for the students, I think it’s equally important for them to be informed of the academic guidelines so that they have the power to speak up whenever they witness a violation of the rules. I will make sure to include such key information that deserves to be acknowledged in our school community within my new initiative: an online page of frequently-asked-questions answered by the admin and student experts (more details about that below!).

Andy Fang
Currently, the biggest issue regarding teachers not following HKIS academic guidelines is that summatives are not given back to students on time. Teachers will normally schedule another test if students miss a summative due to an excused absence (Such as a school-sponsored trip), so I believe that is not as big of an issue that needs to be addressed.
I understand that it is very annoying to do a summative and wait one month before you get it back, and unless in extreme circumstances it is reasonable for teachers to get summatives back to students in one cycle (Or two cycles in special circumstances). Letting all students - and teachers - should know that summatives need to give back within one cycle is the best way we have to minimize teachers not following academic guidelines. The role of the senator of academics is to communicate information and opinions regarding academics between students and teachers. As the senator of academics, I will make sure that all students can have easy access to information regarding academics (Perhaps by creating a website or forum?). I do not think that having a system through which students can report teachers' "bad behavior" is the right way of addressing this issue primarily for two reasons: Teachers do not violate academic guidelines because they want to but rather because they have many other tasks, and that allowing students to easily report teachers creates a sense of distrust between students and teachers, which is neither beneficial for teachers nor student learning. In short, the best way to address this issue is by spreading awareness. If teachers know that all students are expecting their summatives to be returned within one cycle, then teachers are more likely to return students' summatives on time.

Tell us about your biggest potential policy initiative.
Agastya Rao
One of the driving reasons why I am running to be your Senator of Academics is because I am passionate about learning, and I strongly believe that we as a community can cultivate this passion for learning and this intellectual curiosity. I believe in working hard to strive for understanding rather than memorization or regurgitation on a summative assessment to obtain a good grade. Yes, grades are important indicators of students’ performance; however, we need to realize that we don’t just go to school to get good grades. We go to school to learn, to expand our horizons about our role in the world and how the world functions, to become responsible citizens prepared to go out and be successful. It would be a shame to adopt the viewpoint that the sole reason why we take classes in our school is to get over with it and end with a decent grade. The learning that happens in all our classes can be truly exquisite, and we need to appreciate that. Don’t get me wrong, I really do believe that grades are an excellent incentive for students to work hard, but I also believe that they shouldn’t be the only incentive.
So, in addition to further strengthening the programs already in place, like the Academic Mentoring Program (upperclassmen mentoring Freshmen by giving them tips about how to be academically successful in high school), the AP textbook swaps at the end of the school year, and the Academic Advisory Group (a diverse group of students who give input on academic policies), I hope to start my own initiative that focuses on cultivating this intellectual curiosity and appreciation of learning.
Here are the details of the initiative. My plan is that two students, at the end of every week, will each make a short video about the most riveting thing that they’ve learned during the week and that they’re grateful for. I will try to get a variety of students throughout the year, some more interested in STEM-related subjects, others interested in the Humanities, and yet others interested in the Arts. Each video will involve the student speaking about what exactly they thought was so fascinating to them and perhaps thanking the teacher of the class. These videos will be released at the end of every week for the HKIS community to see and appreciate. I am also open to the option of students putting their thoughts into writing or making audio recordings if they’re not comfortable with making a video; this will also add a verity of mediums through which students express their thoughts. At the end of the year, I plan to make a nice, final video incorporating snippets of students’ videos, audio recordings, and writings throughout the year. By doing this, I hope that we can together gain a greater appreciation and passion for learning. When students watch videos of other students talking about the love of learning, they will also be inspired. We need a paradigm shift as a school, toward learning for the love of learning; as your Senator of Academics, I will try my very best to make this paradigm shift happen.
 
Clara Kim
The main reason why I’m running for Senator of Academics is because I wanted to expand the work that I do to foster helpful academic support systems. One of my biggest goals is to bring more exposure to the MSC and Hum Center, two already existing support systems. These centers are very valuable sources of academic support but unfortunately they lack sufficient exposure to underclassmen, especially freshmen. Using the Instagram page I mentioned earlier, I would definitely promote both clubs’ upcoming activities or direct students toward the centers if they express a need for academic help. Also, I hope to collaborate with the Hum Center leaders and faculty advisors to maybe start a joint initiative. In the MSC, we have tentatively discussed the idea of an SAT/ACT tutoring program. I actually became very interested in this idea because I thought it would be great for some Hum Center tutors to help with the reading and writing section and for some MSC tutors to help with math and science. This would require a great amount of planning, but it is something I am willing to take on if I become Senator because it would be an invaluable resource to most HKIS students.

Irene Park
First and foremost, I’d like to strengthen some of the initiatives previous senators of academics have put in place; they’re really good ideas with really good intentions! (e.g. ‘Insider’s Guide to APs’, the academic advisory board, the freshmen tutoring system, etc.) However, I don’t think many students make the most usefulness out of them because the initiatives don't receive enough attention and aren’t as accessible to the majority. I’d like to give these initiatives more acknowledgment and coverage of their benefits through social media/Schoology and on a separate FAQ platform that I plan on initiating next year.
As mentioned above, the motivation behind my new initiative is to answer some of the most frequently asked questions around the school on academic matters. Even through my recent Instagram campaign questionnaire, I’ve received numerous questions regarding academic policies, GPA, and other matters that seemed relevant to the entire student body but left without a clear answer. Unfortunately, this commonly spirals into false information and rumors that students shouldn’t rely on. Therefore it is one of my primary goals to have a page where students can find accurate and reliable answers to their questions about academics. This could range from the role of the academic board, how to calculate your GPA, to an alternative way to deal with a four-summative day. I also believe it’s an effective way to publicize existing initiatives and beneficial sources so they’re readily accessible at the hands of all students.
Both these ideas revolve around the issue that the majority of the student body are not well-informed on the countless ways previous senators of academics have helped to improve their school life. By bringing this initiative of an FAQ that connects them with all these convenient sources, my goal as a senator is to further promote transparency between the senate and the HKIS students and for the students to feel accepted and thrive in this academic environment.

Andy Fang
If elected as the Senator of Academics, my most important policy would be the "One Tutoring Platform" initiative. This initiative involves creating a single platform through which students can arrange lessons with any of the tutoring centers. Note that all of the major tutoring centers will still function as separate entities and select their members separately.
The "One Tutoring Platform" initiative will make academic resources more accessible to students. Right now, it is not very easy for some students to contact a tutoring center and arrange meetings. For example, the MSC has a QR code in every math classroom that leads to a google form through which students can arrange lessons, but students may not be in a math classroom when they feel that they need help. Directly walking into the MSC room is a possibility, but that may be intimidating for some students. MSC's Instagram account does provide an efficient way for students to get in contact with the tutors, but not all students have or regularly use Instagram. Furthermore, not all tutoring centers have Instagram, meaning that there is no consistent medium that students can use to contact the tutoring centers. This makes it rather difficult for students (especially first-timers) to reach the tutoring centers, and students will not schedule lessons with the tutoring centers if it takes 20 minutes to schedule a lesson. By creating one platform where students can easily schedule sessions with any of the tutoring centers, students will have easy access to all the academic resources available.