When it comes to the operation of local schools, arguably no one in the community pulls as much weight as the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board. From budgeting to the approval of field trips, school board members routinely make decisions that affect the lives of thousands of students.
But for all their influence, board members don’t always get direct feedback from students unless they have children in the district. To gain perspective on how agenda items connect to the living, breathing populace, each year the board invites a high school student representative to join its ranks.
This year’s student representative is senior Dahlia Kaki, a 17-year-old La Cañada High water polo player and co-president of the Athletic Leadership Council.
Student reps are selected through a rigorous application and interview process, according to Associated Student Body adviser Bill Lively, who waded through resumes and letters of intent alongside LCHS Principal Ian McFeat. The competition was stiff, he said, but Dahlia was a clear winner.
“In a school characterized by the phenomenal accomplishments of its student body, Dahlia outshines even the brightest of stars,” Lively said in an email interview. “She is literally the very best that this city has to offer.”
There’s no doubt Dahlia sparkles on the page — in addition to being a student leader and ASB board rep, she regularly volunteers at Pasadena’s Door of Hope, a Christian organization that provides transitional services to local homeless families. She’s trilingual (English, Arabic and French), thanks to father Said and mother Rym, who both hail from Tunisia. She lived and attended school there for two years before returning to the States, studying at the Lycee International de Los Angeles in Los Feliz and eventually entering LCHS as an eighth-grader.
“I’ve moved back and forth,” she said, “(but) out of all the places I’ve been to, there hasn’t been a community that’s as involved as La Cañada.”
Dahlia maintains a 4.8 grade point average, is juggling advanced placement classes in biology, psychology, calculus and economics with an English 1A class at Pasadena City College, and works as a teacher’s assistant during her free period. Last year, she interned at JPL.
Though she easily moves between different social groups at school, from the leaders to the jocks to the honors students, Dahlia identifies herself, laughingly, as “definitely a nerd.” When she’s not immersed in school work, she enjoys watching movies with her sister, Yasmin, who attends fifth grade at La Cañada Elementary School, traveling and hanging out with friends.
As for college, Dahlia says she will likely apply to Harvard and Columbia, as well as UC Berkeley. Though she’s interested in science, she hopes to apply her studies in an international and/or humanitarian context; it’s a desire born from her own travels and from research she’s done on the humanitarian group Doctors without Borders.
“I want to be able to be involved outside the medical field or scientific field,” Dahlia explained.
The ability to consider the interests of different groups and be a good liaison between the board and the school sites is one aspect of a good student representative, according to Governing Board Vice President Ellen Multari. As the board’s vice president, Multari is the point of contact for the reps throughout the school year.
Student representatives report during each regular meeting about what’s happening at each of the district’s five schools and may occasionally provide a student viewpoint in some matters discussed by the board, Multari said.
When Dahlia’s appointment was announced during a Sept. 3 board meeting, Multari recounted meeting her at a “Student of the Quarter” breakfast in 2012 and learning of her outstanding achievements.
“I remember (Bill Lively) going on so glowingly about her, I thought, ‘Wow, this girl’s dynamite,’” she recalled.
But as impressive as her accomplishments are, what makes Dahlia stand out as the kind of person who can adequately represent the district’s 4,042 students is something that’s difficult to attain, said her school’s principal, McFeat.
“Leadership is a lot of things, but most importantly it’s about how to listen to people, and Dahlia is an excellent listener,” he said. “That’s something that’s not intuitive — it’s a skill you have to develop, and she’s wonderful at that.”
SARA CARDINE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.