That’s the advice Jackie Moore, a longtime Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 board member, gave to the newly elected members May 4 at a special meeting.
“Take time to catch your breath and understand what you don’t know,” said Moore, as she tugged on her necklace and pointed out the word “listen” written across its pendant. Moore said she started wearing that necklace when she joined the board eight years ago and it helped to remind her of her role.
During the meeting, current board members recognized Moore and outgoing members Craig Iseli and Matt Baron. Moore, Iseli and Baron did not seek re-election this April. Iseli and Baron both served one-year terms.
The new board also chose its officers for the next year with Sara Dixon Spivy continuing as president, the reelected Tom Cofsky chosen as vice president and member Ralph Martire as secretary.
Cofsky thanked Moore, Iseli and Baron individually for their years of service and commitment to District 200’s faculty and families.
“Craig, you’ve been a counsel to me in many ways,” said Cofsky who was re-elected to his seat in April’s general election. “… I promise I will continue to go to [you] in the years ahead because you have sound judgment, and I really appreciate your insight and your contributions, as well as your friendship.”
Cofsky and Martire also commended Baron on his calls for transparency and commented on Moore’s advocacy for students. Martire said Baron was thoughtful and worked to “make the atmosphere at our high school one that was inviting.”
As for Moore, Martire called her a “big thinker” when it came to creating a welcoming school environment. “I think you’ve tried to keep everyone on task in understanding what that really means and not just for the students attending our school but for their families and our communities. That kind of leadership is rare. That kind of strategic vision is rare.”
In a brief speech, Baron reflected on his four years on the board.
“To my colleagues on the board – to those staying on and those departing with me – thank you for your service. To incoming board members, thank you for your willingness to serve,” Baron said. “To our present Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams and our next superintendent Greg Johnson, thank you both for your leadership. It’s been an honor to serve, and in closing, take care and God speed.”
The school board also welcomed newcomers Kebreab Henry and Mary Anne Mohanraj and former member Fred Arkin. Henry and Mohanraj will be serving their first term, while Arkin returns to the board, after losing his seat in 2019. Arkin told the board that he had chosen to resign from the Oak Park and River Forest High School Imagine Foundation board, a group seeking to raise private and foundation money for school capital projects, to avoid any conflict of interest.
Mohanraj said she ran for a seat on the board because of her mother who came to the United States at 21. Draped in a sari, Mohanraj talked about her Sri Lankan roots, remembering her mother who was unable to pursue her education.
“She never did get her GED,” she said. “She tried a couple of times, but with small kids at home, it was really hard. I think that’s what I bring to this table. I want to see all the students here get the kinds of opportunities that she didn’t get.”
Also at the meeting, Martire said he was happy to see Arkin and Cofsky again. “If you hadn’t been re-elected that would have been a major loss to our school and our community,” Martire said about Cofsky.
“As to our two new board members, I don’t know either of you well at all, but we will get to know each other through what I’m sure will be way too long board meetings going forward, but I really look forward to your input and your insights and new ideas you bring to the table,” he said. “Welcome on.”