CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board has selected an author, activist and computer-security expert as its newest member.
Following a 35-minute closed session, the school board unanimously appointed John Bambenek to serve until the next school board election in 2015.
Bambenek, a visiting lecturer in computer science at the University of Illinois, said he was thrilled to get the opportunity to serve the district.
“I have always been interested in educational policy in discussions in the General Assembly and to a much less extent in Congress,” he said. “As someone who also has a commitment to transparency, I will help ensure the community has the confidence that decisions are made in the most fiscally responsible and upright manner to ensure an outstanding education for the students of Unit 4.”
Bambenek, of 715 Erin Drive, Champaign, said there is no public policy matter that is more important than education and raising the next generation.
“There is nothing more important than making sure the next generation is able to take our place in society,” he said. “They will be the ones running the world.”
Bambenek emerged from a field of six candidates for the position. The other applicants were Azark Cobbs, G. David Frye, Chuck Jackson, Mike Somers and Jonathan Westfield.
Champaign school board President Laurie Bonnett said the decision was difficult to make, and she encouraged the other five candidates to run for the board in 2015.
The open seat became available when board member Scott MacAdam stepped down from his position in January.
This was Bambenek’s second attempt to join the school board. He also ran for the board in 2007.
Bambenek joins the board at a time when the school district is considering putting a question on the November ballot to increase property taxes in order to build a new Central High School and make improvements at other schools.
The Champaign man has experience in making a new building for a school become a reality, having been involved with a project in East Africa.
“I have a charity that is active in Tanzania that built a dormitory for a boarding school, so I have been active, in a very small way, with education in Africa,” he said. “There are large swaths of humanity that don’t have access to education.”
He said he also has experience working on campaigns at both the state and local levels.
“There are some things that can be done to smooth over potential rough waters to get a referendum passed,” he said.
While helping to get the ballot question approved is one priority, Bambenek said the board must also focus on the curriculum and maintaining the spirit of the consent decree.
“The consent decree happened because of legitimate issues of some people were unaddressed,” he said. “There are still concerns on racial equity in the schools.
“You can’t make all the people happy all the time, but make sure that when decisions are made that everybody is heard and their views have been taken into account.”
Bambenek said he wants to encourage parents to be involved with their children’s education.
“As a school board member, parental involvement is important,” he said.
Bambenek also stressed support for the teachers who are educating the children of the district.
“We need to make sure the teachers have the resources they need and the support they need,” he said. “If I were building education from scratch, ultimately the primary decisions would come down to parents and teachers. Those two classes of people are the ones who drive educational achievement more than any other.”