Candidates for Champaign school board

Members of the Champaign school board will interview six applicants for a vacant seat on the board Monday.

The interviews are scheduled to happen in open session at 6 p.m. Monday at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., C.

The News-Gazette contacted all six applicants and asked them a few questions about themselves and why they're interested in serving on the board.

Azark David Cobbs

Age: 55

Hometown: Champaign

Do you have kids in the Champaign schools?

Not currently.

What made you apply for the open board seat? I decided to apply for the vacant seat, because we need someone who is a voice of reason, who is a product of the Unit 4 school system and who has six kids who have attended public schools. I would like to add that three of them are college graduates, and one is in her third year and one will start college this year, and one will be in sixth grade in the Chicago school system.

As a father, I think I know what it takes to prepare children for the next level, to be able to attend teacher and parents meetings and to participate in community functions.

At this moment, I serve on the Francis Nelson Health Center Board of Directors. I am familiar with budgets and financial reports. I've also a been member of the Fifth and Hill Neighborhood Rights campaign for three years, serving in our community.

Why do you think you're the person for the job:

I have been preparing myself with Unit 4 information for the last six years. I have been actively attending functions, (including) the Community Dialogue at the I-Hotel (and) the Futures Conference at the Hawthorn Suites. I think my overall professionalism and enthusiasm and the ability work well with other members is my strength.

Chuck Jackson

Age: Not provided

Do you have kids in the Champaign schools?

I have two children in Unit 4 schools, one in elementary and one who just finished middle school and will be attending high school in the fall.

What made you apply for the open board seat?

The reason I am applying for the vacant seat (and why I ran in the April election) is to benefit the youth of our community. Some of our students are already well-served by district programs. Many other students are not served as well and I want to be a part of the board in order to see that this changes. I am the only remaining candidate from the April election. Once a seat opened up, it was clear that the work and effort I put into the election could still benefit the community.

Why do you think you're the person for the job?

I am the candidate most in touch with the district already. Not only have I been attending board meetings (like the special Board Retreat in June) but other district meetings, as well. I can step in already knowing a great deal about the schools and how the district works. In addition, I have proven repeatedly that I work well as a part of a team and the board members really need to be team players at this time. I have the support of many teachers and others who know the system best. Together, we are counting on the board to lead the whole school system to achieve excellence in the same way that excellence is the goal that we have for each of our students.

Michael Jeffries

Age: 66

Hometown: Chicago

Do you have kids in the Champaign schools?

My son and daughter are alumni of Champaign schools and the University of Illinois. They attended Robeson, Jefferson, Franklin and Centennial High School. My spouse and I were involved directly through volunteering in Champaign schools when our children were enrolled. Our children are now professionals in banking and counseling at the Social Security Administration. They are homeowners and voters. I want all children to have the same opportunity and support our kids enjoyed. I look forward to our grandson, Donovan enrolling in a public school in 2017.

What made you apply for the open board seat?

We are faced with numerous challenges in our community; I have lived here for 39 years. In the past several weeks, there seemed to be a call for assistance, a strong interest in supporting children and experience with educational systems. Such an opportunity to serve my community could not be ignored. Administratively, I was involved with the local public school, mostly through staff and students who reported to me through two cultural centers, the Upward Bound Program and some community-wide major initiatives which I designed and directly coordinated from my post as Associate Dean of Students at the University of Illinois.

I have been very passionate about helping students to achieve since I was an undergraduate students when I organized and coordinated mentoring, tutoring and orientation programs.

During my 35-year career at the University of Illinois, I sought involvement with local schools and Rantoul and Parkland. At this time, there is a great need for more civic and social responsibility in our community.

I was giving strong consideration to pursuing a board position when I retired from the University in 2009. Immediately after I retired, I was called to help coordinate 200 national universities who had graduate school preparation programs and I began serving as an national educational consultant mostly out of Washington D.C. Also, I have been training (with a team) faculties of numerous universities, colleges and agencies on how to help students to achieve and reach their full potential.

Why do you think you are the right person for the job?

I believe in public education and how it is the "foundation" for many of our students. I have served on numerous educational boards, including the Golden Apple Foundation, the Illinois Federation of Teachers (vice president for eight years), Educational Testing Services, the Council of Graduate Schools, the Union of Professional Employees (vice president) at Illinois for eight years, and several others. I have served in numerous leadership roles, especially in evaluation educational programs. I have received local, state, regional, and national recognition for helping students achieve. I will be a strong advocate for the school district and serve as a resource person.

(I served as) a consultant over a 20-year period for the U.S. Department of Education, as a grant reviewer and an educational trainer in a collaboration with several major universities and social agencies. All of the aforementioned opportunities were about helping students achieve along the educational pipeline. In addition, I have served on many educational committees on and off campus that involved organizational personnel decisions, budgeting, grant writing, facilities planning, strategic planning, STEM issues, and career planning programs. Most of my work was accomplished because my skills included building relationships with others. I have learned to build partnerships and expand teamwork. I have good collaboration and listening skills and I continue to learn and grow professionally.

I love to focus on what can be done for the next generation of students. I was an IBM computer operator before enrolling in college and while I was a student. Few could imagine how the smart phones today would have more computing power than my 1960s computer rooms. Do students today know how to use a slide? It is important that we provide students with a historical perspective of where we've been and what the future can provide for you.

While college is a wonderful goal for many, vocational training and other training should be taught. While conducting a program review for a vice president at Parkland and I had an opportunity to learn about the state-of-the art facilities and programs available to youth and adults in our community. The campus leaders have built a strong partnership with the business community which has brought the latest technology and training to the colleges. Parkland offers the types of options mention by the Carl Perkins of 2006 (career and technical training) and President Clinton's promoting of GEAR-Up Programs in 1992.

Finally, I want to be a person who can help improve our community by helping all children achieve.

Name: Sujata Dey-Koontz

Age: 45

Hometown: Born in Starkville, Miss., and raised in Charleston (with much travel abroad and in the USA, including living in California, Belgium, California, Germany, Poland, and India, to name a few of the cultures which influenced my life and I proudly called home in my childhood).

Do you have kids in the Champaign schools?

I have three daughters. Teklii will be a freshman at Central, Sia will be a sixth-grader at Edison and my youngest is in pre-school now, and will attend kindergarten next year.

What made you apply for the open board seat?

By participating in several community dialogues for Unit 4 — Health and Wellness, Education, Equity and Excellence Committee and the Social Justice Committee meetings — I see the positive change made in our district. I have been able to answer several topical questions for the Great Schools Initiative and several other conversations about the educational experiences in our district. This is a community I value and know I can make a difference in the lives of everyone who is involved, from the children themselves, their parents and all the staff. Because all of our experiences, the choices we make, they go into our communities, into the lives of everyone and continues with the choices we make for our children. We need to respect these choices and have everyone feel they are involved with the daily educational life of all children and our community.

Why do you think you're the person for the job?

As a child, I traveled extensively. I was raised to make decisions based on empathy and respect. When my parents came from India to Starkville, Miss., the community embraced and helped my parents understand American culture, so as I grew, this sense of respect towards myself and others has influenced my own life decisions. My parents felt it was important to understand the people in the countries we lived in. I attended public school, instead of English medium schools, and even when Department of Defense Educational opportunities were available, my parents still choose to enroll me in the public school. I learned, all children have the same basic needs. When they walk into the school building every day, they want to be valued, feel safe and be respected. I see we accomplish that in our schools, and I would like to see this continue by being more involved. We have a very involved school district which has always seen the needs in our community, successfully challenge itself in making necessary changes, and continues to give all the children a safe learning environment.

Kerris Lee

Age: 30

Hometown: San Jose, Calif.

Do you have kids in the Champaign schools?

No, they're not old enough.

What made you apply for the open board seat?

I am very passionate and optimistic about our educational system and have experience working with UIUC, Parkland College, non-profits, and the Unit 4 education systems and have facilitated public engagement with all four.

I felt this opening would be a good way to apply my talents and experience to help further our educational system.

Why do you think you're the person for the job?

I feel that I have a lot of experience working in different aspects of the community and can bring a perspective that can help enhance our educational system. I have tirelessly worked through an organization I founded, Illini for Kids, that was recently nominated as an Innovation Celebration Finalist. With IFK, I have worked with Unit 4 and UIUC to make sure that our kids are not left behind with regards to technology. Illini for Kids has successfully worked with Unit 4 and UIUC to employ a curriculum that teaches kids from K-12 how to computer program in all middle schools last year. Currently, we are training teachers to go active in the high school and elementary schools in the Unit 4 schools.

I intend to further help the community and Unit 4 achieve its goals given the opportunity to serve on the school board.

Jeff McGill

Age: My chronological age is 62. My Satchel Paige age ("How old would I be if I didn't know how I was?") is 39.

Hometown: Champaign

Do you have kids in the Champaign schools?

No, my last child of four, Sarah, graduated this spring from Central as did her siblings before her: Elliott, '04; Tyler, '06; and Colin, '09.

What made you apply for the open board seat?

A few years ago I decided to thank the teachers that had done such a great job educating my kids. So, four mornings a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., two days at Edison and two days at Central, I helped teachers by making copies of things they need for that morning and delivering them to their rooms.

I saved the teachers from having to stand in line for five to 20 minutes waiting for the copiers to be available. That little burden removed, they could go to their rooms and get things ready for the day of teaching, meet with students, other faculty or take care of other duties. Serving on the board would be an extension of that same "thank you," only on a broader basis to the Unit 4 system and even the community.

Why do you think you're the person for the job?

I don't know that I'm any more "the person for the job" than any one of the other candidates. What I have to offer is combination of analytical thinking and a creative personality. My contribution to addressing and resolving issues will be supported by my learning the facts, doing my homework, using common sense and fitting those elements into a bigger picture that isn't always about facts and figures.

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