Editor’s note: The following letter from District 97 school board candidate Jim O’Connor is a response to our News story last week, “Big money in Oak Park school board races.”

We have extraordinary public schools in Oak Park — and I’m proud of my four years of service on the District 97 elementary school board. I’m running for re-election because I see public schools as the most important foundation for a strong community, and I know we have more work to do for our schools to lift every child to their highest levels of achievement.

With Election Day on Tuesday, I wanted to take a moment to address some discussion about support I received from Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).

I got into teaching through Teach for America, taught for four years, and then helped found a school and served as its principal for six years. I work today as an educational advocate at the state level, and serve on the school board. My wife Hannah and I have a second- and a fourth-grader at Irving Elementary School.

In endorsing me, the Oak Park Teachers Association cited my dedication “to public education as a parent, teacher, principal, and board member.” It went on to also cite my “commitment to addressing the ‘achievement gap.'”

So to be clear, LEE is simply a nonprofit leadership development organization that helps former Teach for America teachers continue to grow as leaders in their communities — with absolutely no litmus test on our ideologies, policy ideas, or partisan involvement. The idea is simply that someone who has stepped up and served in the classroom — because they care about every child having access to a great education — should be encouraged to lead in other roles, sometimes in elective office.

I’m grateful that in an era where the rich and powerful and corporate interests have an outsized influence in our politics, there’s an organization that gives former teachers resources and expertise to run for office. It’s time for children to have more of a voice in the public debate.

I was unopposed in my first election, and I wanted to be sure I got my message out this time around in a highly contested race. There is nothing in my candidacy — or frankly, my public record — that would do anything but support professional teachers, public schools, and giving every child who attends our public schools a better shot at success.

You can read more about my record and what I plan to do if elected at my website: www.votejimoconnor.com.

I’m grateful to live in a community that cares so much about the responsible governance of our elementary schools, and I hope to continue to serve it for years to come.

Jim O’Connor

Candidate for the District 97 school board

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