Seven seek Kankakee school board seats

March 24, 2019 GMT

Here are profiles of the seven candidates running for a four-year term for the Kankakee School Board. Three will be elected. An eighth candidate, Angela Shea, is running unopposed for a two-year term.

We have listed the four-year candidates in alphabetical order. Each candidate was asked their age, their experience and their education. They were then asked to answer three questions:

Roy Bernard, 57

Experience: Reporter for 25 years, covering business and local government, including local school districts. I was an English instructor for 10 years at Kankakee Community College. I now work with developmentally disabled adults, teaching them life and work skills.

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Northern Illinois University

Why are you running for the school board?

I am running for the Kankakee School District Board of Education because I want to participate in helping our students become fully prepared lifelong learners, from their first steps in preschool to their high school graduation. I’ve seen our school district from several perspectives, as a parent, substitute teacher, community college instructor, reporter and taxpayer.

What’s the school district’s biggest challenge?

Safety is the utmost issue. We need to make sure more than anything else that our children and our staff feel safe in our schools. Our students need to feel secure in our schools, and their parents need to feel secure in knowing their children are safe in our schools. If we need to institute tougher penalties for fighting and bringing in weapons, then those choices must be made.

Improvements sought

We need to have better communication and responsiveness to the concerns and ideas that come from our teachers, parents and our community. We must provide a safe, inspiring learning environment, and respect and recognize the skills and potential of all our children and staff. We need to work for what’s best for our children, the staff and our community, as we prepare our children for the workforce.

Christopher W. Bohlen, 69

Experience: I was a felony trial lawyer for the Cleveland, Ohio, Legal Aid Defender’s Office. I moved to Kankakee in 1977, and in 1978, became a partner in the law firm where I currently practice. I am a trial lawyer, involved in personal injury, family law and commercial cases. In 1993, I was appointed as an assistant city attorney for the city of Kankakee. In 1995, I was appointed corporation counsel for the city of Kankakee and served until 2017.

I have served on the Kankakee Valley Montessori School Board; I was president of the Kankakee Area YMCA, where I also served on both the board of directors and the board of trustees. I served 11 years as a commissioner of the Kankakee Valley Park District and was president of the board for seven years. I have been a member of the city of Kankakee Planning Board and am currently chairman of the Kankakee County Public Commission. I am a member of the board of the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra.

Education: University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Bachelor of Arts in the teaching of high school social studies. Completed in three years cum laude 1970. Northwestern University School of Law Juris Doctorate 1973.

Why are you running for the school board?

I am intensely aware of the necessity of improving both the community perception of the schools and improving the schools themselves. When a board vacancy existed, I applied and explained to the board members that I wanted to connect the community to the schools and wanted to be a part of the improvements, which I saw occurring. I bring substantial experience as an active member of the community, as an attorney and being involved with the city administrations and, more important, because I am an ongoing learner, especially in education. I want to be able to communicate the good things that happen at our schools. I want to encourage and assure that our schools are creating an atmosphere where students can learn to think and perform in a manner that will assure that they are productive human beings.

What’s the school district’s biggest challenge?

Our primary mission is to assure that each student is given a safe and challenging environment to become a productive member of the community. I support the changes in the curriculum, which include Competency Based Education and the emphasis on connecting students with the community and “real life” experiences. To successfully accomplish that goal, we need to assure that our administrators and teachers are well trained to deal with the child as an individual, recognize and respond to adverse childhood experiences and able to provide responses based upon understanding that trauma. This will assure that when a student needs individual attention that we are responding in a manner that will help the student cope with his or her issues.

Improvements sought

Let me make it clear that we have a very good school district. We have outstanding administrators, outstanding teaching staff and a group of students who have amazing potential.

I have many goals. The first is to maintain financial viability and to assure that the tax dollars are spent efficiently. I have asked many questions regarding existing finances and proposed changes. I have suggested, successfully, that proposed additional personnel be re-evaluated to save funds.

I want to see more Illinois State Scholars and improve student performance. My communication of this goal to the staff and administration has been well-received. We have evaluated the changes in curriculum to attempt to obtain these goals.

Finally, I believe in communicating the successes of the school district to those members of the community who do not have students enrolled and are not otherwise involved in our schools. Negative perception is a major impediment. Informing the community of our successes is critical. Through my extensive involvement in the community as a volunteer and through my work in the city, I believe I am a person who can communicate positive facts about the district.

Deb Johnston, 65

Experience: I taught and coached in the Kankakee School District my whole professional career, which covered 40 years. I also was the assistant athletic director for many years, helping to organize sports schedules and securing community volunteers for the Kankakee Holiday Tournament.

Education: I was in the Kankakee school system from kindergarten through high school, graduating from Eastridge High School. I graduated from Illinois State University with a physical education degree, and did my student teaching at BBCHS through Olivet Nazarene University.

Why are you running for the school board?

As I previously stated, I have been a part of KSD 111 nearly all of my life. I have witnessed incredible growth in all facets of the educational process, not only in the classroom, but in the fine arts programs and in the athletic programs. We have an amazing faculty, staff, administrators and beyond amazing kids. I am excited about the direction the district is heading, and I think it would be incredible to be a part of continuing that success.

What’s the school district’s biggest challenge?

The safety of our students and faculty is at the forefront, now more than ever. The safety of everyone in each building is crucial. The safety grant the district has secured is a huge start in establishing control of the schools. This also will assure the public that KSD 111 is once again a strong, healthy and reliable place to send their children. The negative publicity the district gets actually deals with a very small percentage of students. The board must work to assure the community that KSD 111 is, has been and will continue to be a strong and competent school system for their children.

Improvements sought

Once the safety grant becomes a reality, district officials must follow through with their plan to make the schools a safe place for the students and employees. We have an incredible group of students and teachers who deserve the right to study and teach in a safe environment. Social media is a concern and plays a part in the altercations in the school, but discipline must start at home. Because of this, I plan to work with the district to create more opportunities for parents to become involved in their child’s education.

Patricia Santoyo-Marin, 37

Experience: All of my professional roles have been in student support advocacy or educational policy research: project coordinator for the University of Notre Dame; education outreach coordinator for the Chicago Zoological Society; advisor and retention specialist for Joliet Junior College; research fellow for the University of Chicago; conducted my Master’s practicum at Illinois Institute of Technology; director and assistant dean at Augustana College; founding associate director for DePaul University; and now, academic advisor and transfer center coordinator for Kankakee Community College.

I was invited to participate at the White House Department of Education roundtables, present my research at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, served at the Illinois Community College Board, the Illinois DREAM Fund Commission, the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education and Bilingual Parent Advisory Councils.

I co-founded a group that liaisons Spanish speaking neighbors through youth and family advocacy, graduated from the Kankakee Citizen’s Police Academy, volunteered for Hippocrates Medical Clinic, participated in the FEMA response trainings, installed smoke detectors for the Red Cross, coordinated voter registration and education workshops, coordinated multi-faith and multicultural youth conferences, facilitated dialogue for Kankakee Connect, joined the local NAACP chapter, was a speaker for Women’s United and participated in city council diversity series conversations. I was recognized for my volunteer efforts by the city of Kankakee and awarded a medal at City Council.

Education: I was the second at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to graduate with a self created, Latina/Latino studies degree. Years later, I received a fellowship and completed my Master’s in Arts in higher education leadership for a global society from Northeastern Illinois University.

Why are you running for the school board?

It has been my passion to provide resources and promote access to education because I believe it is a tool for upward mobility and self-sufficiency. For more than 15 years, I have been working to open paths and promote equitable liaison services for students of all backgrounds. After leading six college-prep seminars in the area, I have learned that many of our young minds have yet to grab onto post-secondary goals. Although the reasons for low attainment are complex, I know we have a strong group of educators, parents and students who can create a thriving environment. My goal is to ensure these relationships are strengthened, to continue to add resources, applaud our individual and collective strengths and support our students in getting to the finish line (graduation) with the tools they need to be successful after high school.

What’s the school district’s biggest challenge

While I promote post secondary aptitude and preparation, it would be ignorant of me to pretend that our district holds no urgent needs. Our district has an urgent challenge with one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — safety.

Improvements sought

Attending to the urgent need for safety, I would promote policy, programs and initiatives that prevent violence, including those that help students feel welcome and empowered. Simultaneously, I envision a more comprehensive discipline system that allows parents and students to understand the consequences of engaging in violence and holds not only the student, but our district and parents, accountable.

I envision strengthening the educational pipeline to ensure that graduating high school students are prepared to enter the workforce, start their own business and/or enter college without need for developmental coursework.

Lastly, I would develop more equitable pathways for communication and engagement of parents with limited English who want to be active in their student’s educational success.

Pedro A. Solis, 21

Experience: Former health benefit specialist at a local clinic, where I provided client-specific advice and representation on matters involving health issues, public/private benefits and other financial issues, as well as carried out educational and outreach activities. While also being an intern with Kankakee State Attorney’s office, I saw the first-hand consequences of committing crimes.

Education: Attended kindergarten through 12th grade and graduated from Kankakee School District in 2015. Currently enrolled in college.

Why are you Running for the school board?

I am running for school board because of the spike in school violence that has occurred and the low graduation rate in the school district. As someone who has been raised in Kankakee and graduated from Kankakee High School, it is bothersome that many outsiders have a very bad image of the school I love, when, in reality, there are so many amazing things going on with the school district that people are not noticing.

What’s the school district’s biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge the school faces is regaining the trust of parents, while also showing the rest of the community they have more good than bad to offer.

Improvements sought

The improvement I would make is letting the parents know their concerns are being heard and not ignored, and letting them know they will have someone who will voice their concerns. I would help create programs for our students to help them succeed in school, from mentorship programs with local leaders to programs to help students improve test scores with more college readiness. As someone who recently graduated from the high school and currently has siblings in the high school, I understand the frustration that comes with school and trying to prepare for the real world.

Barbara A. Wells, 60

Experience: School board member 14 years. Certified housing counselor, NeighborWorks America. Licensed insurance agent with AFLAC

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Why are you running for the school board?

This has been the work of my life. I have cared about education since I have come to the realization it is the great equalizer when people are given equal access to it and support through the process. We are successfully modernizing a system that has been moribund for more than a decade. In the last five years, we have instituted 1 to 1 technology, new curriculum, such as Incubator EDU, Competency Based Education and the Academy Models, Freshman, Leadership, Medical and STEAM at the high school. We have renovated more than 1/3 of Kankakee High School. In our K-6 buildings we have added engineering and design, college and career readiness, dual language, to our established magnets. Kankakee has been a leader in parent choice for years. We are headed in a positive direction and I want to continue to be a part of it.

Whta’s the school district’s biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is making certain every student is served and their needs are met. Our next challenge is the uncertainty of school financing. Since I have been on the board, we have only gotten a portion of our state financing and are very dependent on federal grants. For those who are unfamiliar with the district’s financing, only 17 percent of the budget comes from local funding. Until we can look at our financing from year to year with certainty, this will continue to affect the decisions the board of education and the superintendent of schools make about salaries and other expenditures.

Improvements sought

I will continue to work with my fellow members of board of education and the superintendent. I will to listen to the community, and we will work on adjusting our implementation toward meeting our goals. A single board member cannot effect change. It takes the entire team working together, aimed in a positive direction to lift up all students.

Linh Williams, 40

Experience: I previously worked for District 111 for 14-plus years. I worked as a substitute aid/administrative assistant, I worked at SALT for three years and at the high school as an administrative assistant over discipline for 10 years. I mentored the Sister Circle program and step team for six years. I was the JV cheer coach, and I sponsored the freshman at KHS. I am now in my third year at KCC as the coordinator of student life. I plan many community events and student activities.

Education: KHS Class of ’96; Bachelor of administration degree from Olivet and Master of business – concentration in leadership coming in May 2019 from ONU.

Why are you running for school board?

I have spent the last decade of my life serving my community. I have been a step team coach, led an after-school program for young women that focused on educational success and practical life skills, I have worked in the discipline office at Kankakee High School, where I built lasting bonds with students and teachers by being honest and keeping the focus on student success. I’m running for school board because I am a product of this district, I have two children in the district. We have an unacceptable turnover rate among teaching/administrative staff and a severe discipline problem at our junior and senior high schools. I feel compelled to continue to represent my community in the best possible way and that is to run for the school board.

What’s the school district’s biggest challenge?

Discipline and staff retention: We have to have a system for discipline that holds students accountable. We have unstable schools because we are struggling to keep teachers on the job. We’ve got to make conditions better for teachers and students.

We need a climate survey for teachers and support staff to determine what issues they face and why they are leaving in mass numbers. We also would benefit from an exit survey in order to fix the issues with fleeing staff.

Improvements sought

I want to re-engage the community. I want parents and families at our school board meetings informed, making demands of us and holding us accountable. There needs to be increased transparency in our school system. Kankakee families deserve school board members that will operate with the utmost integrity with respect about how we manage district resources, leadership and staff, and, most importantly, how we engage with our students.