Hutchins goes from student, to sub, to Fennville board

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

One of the Fennville school board’s newest members will take a seat at the board table with an interesting perspective—he is a student.

At age 21, Tobias Hutchins won his seat on the board last November in a three-way race for two six-year terms.

The 2011 Fennville High School graduate turned 22 this month, is in his final semester at Grand Valley State University and is looking forward to his first school board meeting next Monday.

“I normally like to sit in the back and don’t like attention,” Hutchins said Jan. 12. “But 1,150 people placed their trust in me. That’s pretty humbling.”

Despite not necessarily wanting attention, this won’t be Hutchins’ first experience at the front of the room.

Besides giving reports at school board meetings as a student council representative on the board while in high school—for the last year-and-a-half, he has worked as a substitute teacher in the district. Hutchins said he subbed at a variety of grade levels, kindergarten through high school.

The lifelong resident of the school district said, “It gave me a pretty cool perspective on how each building and age group works. One of the most surprising things was how willing the kids are to listen to different perspectives.”

He said he was able to share some of his experiences as part of Hauenstein Center’s Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy at GVSU. Hutchins is double majoring in public and nonprofit administration and political science.

The leadership development program pairs each Cook Leadership Fellow with a mentor. The group has had the chance to meet five governors and two senators.

Hutchins said, “I’m only four years older than the seniors (in the classes he would sub for), so I could share what was going on in my life and tell them it could really happen to them too.”

He said the experience of being behind a teacher’s desk had been eye-opening as well.

“It’s cool to see through the eyes of teachers I’ve had before,” Hutchins said. “And how much energy they put into the job—I have so much respect for them.”

In his October election profile for The Allegan County News, Hutchins said, “...I can bring many different experiences and new perspectives to the table. I am not afraid to ask questions and will be a voice for community.”

This week, he said all of that came down to understanding what students truly need from their education.

He said he can relate to students in high school and college classrooms right now. For example, as a student who will graduate with a lot of school loan debt, he will be asking how Fennville schools are preparing students for that.

While he believes the idea that everyone needs to go to college is not true, but for those who do want to go, he will be asking how the district is preparing them to be successful.

“What skills do I wish I had coming out of high school—what skills I had to learn on the way at college,” Hutchins said.

He hopes to help organize round table gatherings of teachers, administrators and the public to encourage conversation.

He also hopes to direct some of the district’s money toward creating different kinds of learning spaces in the buildings, either for small-group work outside of the classroom or for one-on-one sessions with paraprofessionals.

And he’d liked to see the students more engaged in what the district is doing. For example, he’d like to see the administration present the options for the security redesign of the high school’s north entrance voted on by the students.

He doesn’t intend on it being binding.

“It could just be a ‘What would you like to see inside of it?’” Hutchins said. “Turn it into a creative writing assignment or have it looked at by students studying business.”

Whatever he ends up pursuing on the school board, it will be a continuation of a long history of leadership positions there. He is a former student council president and marching band drum major. After graduating, the saxophone player said he volunteered to help with tutoring and music lessons in the band program.

He said his friends and family were not exactly surprised by his election win.

“I have an awesome support system,” Hutchins said. “They know this is what I’ve wanted to do for a really long time and have really been supportive throughout.

“My parents are proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far. That it’s finally culminated in something—I’ve been talking about it most of my life.”

He makes no secret he’s always dreamed of being the president of the United States. Whatever he ends up doing, he said he simply wants to be good at it, whether that’s in public office or in education.

“Obviously, you don’t go from the school board to the presidency,” Hutchins said. “I just don’t want to be in it for anything other than the public good.”

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