Kankakee school hopefuls diverse

March 19, 2019

KANKAKEE — The seven candidates for Kankakee school board come from different walks of life.

Their ranks include a lawyer, a retired teacher, a college official and the current school board president. Another graduated from Kankakee High School just four years ago. One learned English as a second language. Still another is a reporter who used to cover schools.

The candidates are vying for three seats on the school board in the April 2 election.

The candidates are incumbents Barbara Wells and Chris Bohlen and challengers Roy Bernard, Deborah Johnston, Patricia Santoyo-Marin, Pedro Solis and Linh Williams.

They spoke during a forum recently sponsored by the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP.

Here’s some of what they said during the event:

• Roy Bernard, former reporter and a substitute teacher: Worked for the Daily Journal and has worked with those who are developmentally disabled. Members of the board, he said, “should be able to build a consensus.” He said board members can be criticized from time to time. “Being a newspaper reporter, I got my share of criticism.” He promised to “look out for the best interests of children.”

• Chris Bohlen, a lawyer: Spent 24 years working as an attorney for the city of Kankakee. He continues to practice law and was appointed to the board last year. He said schools are a critical part of any community. He said there are negative perceptions about the local school district. “It’s a wrong perception,” he said. “I truly want to be the biggest cheerleader for District 111 that anyone has ever seen.”

• Deborah Johnston, retired teacher: Left the school district after four decades of teaching and coaching. “I feel the district is headed in a strong direction. I want to continue to be a part of that. ... The work we have done at the high school is absolutely beautiful. Our athletic teams are incredible.” The drama and music departments are second to none, she said.

• Patricia Santoyo-Marin, nonprofit executive director: Founded and leads Poder Latino, billed as the region’s first Latino-serving nonprofit organization. She said she learned English through bilingual education. Santoyo-Marin, who has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, said she has benefited a lot from education. This is her second time running for the board. “I want to ensure our youth are in the best position to thrive, not just graduate,” she said.

• Pedro Solis, graduated from Kankakee High School four years ago. He said his recent experience in high school will provide a different perspective for the school board. “As a student, I know what it feels like to have the world against you. It’s time for a new leader in education. I would love to be that leader.” He said he was on the honor roll for the first three years, but was failing by senior year. “I know what kids go through.”

• Barbara Wells, school board president: Served on school board for 14 years. “A board member is part of a team. That team has to work together with the administrative team of the district to get things accomplished. No one person drives the education of the district.”

• Linh Williams, coordinator of student life and development at Kankakee Community College. Graduated from Kankakee High School in 1996 and worked at the high school for a decade. She said she feels “a strong sense of dedication to the community,” wants to “lead by example,” and “bring a different perspective.”