(Editor’s note: This is an update to our coverage of the appointment process for a new school board member at OPRF.)

Late Tuesday afternoon the Oak Park and River Forest High School Board of Education announced the three finalists to fill the vacancy on the OPRF school board created when Kebreab Henry resigned from the school board last month because he is moving out of state.

The three finalists are employment attorney Patience Keys, project manager Leslie Stephenshaw and Audrey Williams-Lee, the top human resources officer at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

The school board will interview the three women in closed session on July 13 and is expected to vote on the successor to Henry later that evening.

Last winter, with three seats on the District 200 Board of Education up for election, only five people filed to run for the school board and one of them, then-incumbent Sara Spivy, quickly dropped out of the race. 

But now — with the school board looking to appoint a new member of the school board to replace Kebreab Henry who resigned from the board last month because he is moving out of the district — 13 people jumped at the chance to get on the school board without running for election by applying to fill that vacancy.

After looking at resumes and letters of interest, the school board, which will appoint someone to serve the last two years of Henry’s term, narrowed the field down to six semifinalists who appeared before the board in an open special meeting on June 21. 

The six semifinalists were retired school teacher Nancy Alexander; physical education teacher Pete Miller; Aubrey Williams Lee, chief people officer at Lurie Children’s Hospital; attorney Patience Clark-Keys; Leslie Stephenshaw, project manager for a manufacturing company; and former River Forest village board member Mike Gibbs, an OPRF alumnus.

Mike Gibbs | Bob Skolnik

Five of the six are Black, including at least two who are mixed race. Gibbs, a former Huskie Booster Club president, was the only white person among the six semifinalists. Henry had been the only Black member of the school since Gina Harris’ term ended in May, so the school board is currently without a Black member. Gibbs, in his presentation, encouraged the school board to expand its definition of diversity.

“Diversity, as I define it, is diversity of thought,” Gibbs told the school board.

The six semifinalists were each given 10 minutes to make a presentation to the board, responding to the same set of questions, which all had been given in advance. There was not much difference in the way they answered those questions. One distinction was on whether they would run for a full four-year term if appointed to the school board to replace Henry.

Pete Miller | Bob Skolnik

Miller, a longtime resident of Oak Park who teaches at the UHigh, the high school of the University of Chicago Laboratory School, was the only semifinalist to say he would not run for full term on the school board.

“I view this entirely as a two-year, temporary commitment,” Miller said. “I would have no intention, at this point, to run for a full term.” 

The other applicants said they would likely run for a full term or haven’t made up their minds.

Clark-Keys who, like Alexander, appeared via Zoom, is an employment attorney, currently working for Allianz Global Risks, a large insurance and financial services company.

“I’m also a Black mother of two Black children and this does not mean I’m more sympathetic toward one group of children over another, but it does influence the way I process information in a unique manner,” Clark-Keys said. “It empowers me to advocate for underrepresented groups.”

Alexander is a bilingual former ESL teacher who taught middle-school students in English and Spanish in the Evanston Community Consolidated School District for more than 20 years. Alexander, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree from the Teachers College at Columbia University, is a longtime Oak Park resident who has been a substitute teacher at OPRF for the last three years. She is the mother of two Black OPRF graduates. Alexander pointed to her 32 years of public school experience in a variety of roles.

“I know school systems and I know how they work,” Alexander told the school board. Being retired would also be an advantage, she said.

Audrey Williams-Lee | Bob Skolnik

“I have the time to devote to being a school board member.”

Williams-Lee, earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Northwestern and a master’s degree in organizational behavior from Benedictine University.

“I want our high school to be very vibrant; I want it to be radically inclusive; I want it to be equitable,” said Williams-Lee, the mother of two sons, one a graduate of OPRF and one a current OPRF student. She added that the top issue for her would be the mental-health crisis faced by students and staff.

Leslie Stephenshaw | Bob Skolnik

Stephenshaw, a graduate of Stanford University, works as a project manager for Oil-Dri Corporation of America. Her mother is a white Jewish woman who worked with the Black Panther Party and became an obstetrician/gynecologist in her 30s, and her father was Black. She noted that she was raised by a single mother.

“I think I bring a little diversity to the board, which is right now a little lacking,” she said, adding that her only child will be a sophomore at OPRF next year. “That doesn’t reflect our community well.”

After hearing from the six semifinalists, the school board met in closed session for about an hour to pick two or three finalists to invite back for second interviews, this time in closed session on July 13. That is also the date the board expects to pick a replacement for Henry. The board has not told the Wednesday Journal who the finalists are.

Applicants who did not receive invitations to appear before the board were Kevin Peppard, a frequent critic of local school boards and a mostly self-taught specialist on school finance; former River Forest District 90 school board member Cal Davis, a member of OPRF’s Community Finance Committee who was defeated in April when he ran for another term on the D90 Board of Education; Vincent Gay, a former Chicago charter school principal and current Midwest Regional director of the Relay Graduate School of Education; Colin Jamal Bird-Martinez, an OPRF alumnus who works as consultant for S&P Global; Misty Olson, a consultant and active OPRF volunteer; Thomas Finn, chief financial officer for Rhodian Group, an IT managed services company; and Henry Sampson, a retired high school and college English teacher. 

Board President Tom Cofsky described the entire applicant pool as a group of “very well qualified individuals.”

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