Jonathan Livingston and Graham Brisben | Photo by Bob Skolnik

Three new members of the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School  were sworn in last week. Tim Brandhorst, Graham Brisben and Jonathan Livingston took their nearly 5-minute-long oath of office on May 11 as the school board bid adieu to Gina Harris, Ralph Martire and Sara Dixon Spivy.

Brandhorst took the oath of office remotely over Zoom. He, along with Brisben and Livingston, were elected in the April election in a 4-candidate race defeating Brian Souders. They ran as a team and were supported by Spivy who sat behind Brisben and Livingston as they took their oaths in the board room at OPRF.

“I want to thank the voters of Oak Park and River Forest for the confidence they placed in me and I look forward to rolling up the sleeves and working with the students, faculty and staff, the administration and fellow board members toward the best interests of our 3,400 students,” said Brisben when he was invited to make a few remarks before taking the oath of office and being seated at the board table.

Livingston, who was recently hired to be the lead director for data and evaluation for the Urban Initiatives organization in Chicago, thanked Spivy for her support and thanked incumbent school board member Kebreab Henry for encouraging him to run.

Brandhorst thanked the outgoing school board members for their service.

The departure of Spivy and Harris from the board leaves the OPRF school board with only one female member, Mary Anne Mohanraj. Henry is now the only Black member of the school board.

Once the new school board members were seated the first order of business was to select officers. There was no contest for any of the posts. By acclamation Tom Cofsky will remain as school board president while Fred Arkin was named as vice-president and Livingston will serve as board secretary. 

The departure of Harris, Martire, and Spivy, none of whom ran for reelection, leaves  OPRF with only two members, Cofsky and Arkin, who have served longer than two years on the school board although Brisben served on the Oak Park Elementary District 97 Board of Education for four years from 2013 until 2017.

In their final minutes before they left the board table Harris, Martire, and Spivy received compliments from fellow board members and made their farewell remarks.

Harris, a culture and climate coach for District 97, an adjunct professor at Roosevelt University and a graduate of OPRF, was recently elected secretary/treasurer of the Illinois Education Association, the statewide umbrella teachers union. Harris is also a director of the National Education Association.

Harris was praised by fellow board members for her passion for equity and her student focus. She led OPRF’s culture, climate and behavior committee and was an advocate for student voice.

“I’m definitely walking away feeling like we made changes that are lasting,” said Harris during her nearly 7-minute-long farewell remarks. “There are procedures in place to really look at the things we need to look at.”

Martire and Harris served only four years on the OPRF board but Martire served on the River Forest District 90 school board for eight years before being elected to the OPRF school board in 2019. He said that 12 years of school board service was enough. Brandhorst noted that Martire has impacted the education of a senior from River Forest since that student was in first grade. 

Martire, a confident, articulate and forceful speaker, brought formidable intelligence and deep knowledge to the school board. In his day job he serves as the executive director of the liberal leaning Center for Budget and Tax Accountability as well as serving as a professor of public policy at Roosevelt University. Martire is an expert on fiscal matters and he played a key role in writing the bill that established the state’s evidence-based funding model. On the OPRF board he focused on establishing policies for many areas but especially in the area of budgeting and equity. 

“We have the resources to eliminate any kind of discrepancy in outcome by race, gender, ethnicity or anything else,” said Martire during his final remarks that lasted for more than 8 minutes. “I ran because I believe that Oak Park should be the example for the state and nation on how you create a well-functioning, equitable school district that takes its resources and invests them wisely in creating an educational and academic atmosphere where all children can reach their potential.”

Cofsky told Martire that his influence on the school board will be apparent even a decade from now.

Spivy served on the OPRF school board for eight years, including a 2-year stint as board president from 2019 until 2021. Her board colleagues praised her for her steady leadership throughout the height of the COVID pandemic. Spivy was well connected to OPRF parents and the broader OPRF community. She persuaded Martire to run for the school board four years ago and played an important role in this year’s campaign. 

Spivy choked up and was tearful during her brief farewell comments.

“It’s about the faculty, the staff and the school and our kids,” Spivy said.

None of the departing board members specifically remarked on what might be their most lasting contribution to the school, their role in approving the nearly $102 million Project 2 reconstruction of the much of the school’s physical education spaces which will include the construction of a new swimming pool.

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