Lee chosen for vacant Champaign school board seat

CHAMPAIGN — Kerris Lee is Champaign's newest school board member after the board selected him for the spot Monday.

Lee, who is 30 and lives in Savoy, will serve until April 2015. The seat was left open when former board member Stig Lanesskog resigned in June.

Board policy required the school board to choose his replacement within 45 days.

The board interviewed six candidates for the seat Monday and deliberated for about 45 minutes in closed session. The board voted 5-0 to select Lee, with member Kristine Chalifoux absent.

He will be sworn in Aug. 5.

Lee said he was "immensely honored" to be selected. He plans to learn about the school district by speaking individually with staff members and other school board members, as well as members of the community.

He hopes to work with the school district to address the way it handles bullying, including online and students excluding each other.

He's also interested in kindergarten readiness and is working with students from Parkland College and the University of Illinois to create a kindergarten readiness app for the United Way, he said.

He said he plans to learn more about the school district's facilities and talk with community members before forming opinions on how the school district should deal with its aging buildings.

That topic, including where to locate a replacement for Central High School, has been an ongoing discussion for several years.

Lee said he also hopes to keep in touch with the other five candidates who interviewed in open session Monday "and incorporate their ideas, as well," he said.

School board President Laurie Bonnett said she saw her part in choosing a new board member as "a big responsibility" and said all six candidates offered different perspectives.

She said board members were looking for a candidate with skills and interests that complemented the current board and brought energy and expertise to the seat.

"We felt Kerris was the top candidate to do that," Bonnett said.

During the interview, board members asked all six candidates the same questions, including about how their personal and professional interests provide insight into the issues the school district faces and how they fit in with the current board.

They also asked candidates how they thought the school district could create a positive learning environment, how they would work to continue what the school district gained while it was under a federal consent decree and how they see the school district making decisions with community members.

The applicants were also able to give short opening and closing statements about themselves and why they wanted to serve on the board.

During the interview, Lee spoke about how he founded a group called Illini for Kids, which connects the school district with the University of Illinois and Parkland College, and how it's resulted in a K-12 computer programming curriculum. As an entrepreneur who's a partner in an information technology firm, Lee told the board he's a "problem solver" who believes in educating kids for the jobs that will be in demand when they finish school. He sees Champaign as a unique town, he told the board during the interview, and he wants to make a difference.

"I have a servant's heart that I want to commit to everyone else," he said.

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