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District 200 Board Veteran Replaces Conway

Valerie Fisher, a school board veteran, to fill the vacant seat until 2013.

Editor's note: John Allen responded to requests for comment after publication of this story. His remarks have been included in our "comments" section. 

A former member of the Board was appointed Thursday to complete the term of Jacques Conway, who resigned from his seat last month.

By a 5-1 vote, Oak Park attorney Valerie Fisher was selected to serve out the remaining two years of . That term will expire in April 2013.

Fisher was on the board from 1997 to 2009 and served as its president and secretary. She also chaired various board committees and was a liaison to numerous parent, faculty, staff and community groups. She served alongside Conway during her last four years on the board.

Sharon Patchak-Layman, the lone opponent to the appointment, said the board’s choice should have reflected the school district’s diversity.

But board member John Phelan said that race was not a factor in selecting a replacement, noting that they did not have demographic information on any of the 10 applicants who expressed interest in the position.

With Fisher, board members said they'd have the kind of perspective and historical background that would be useful in the coming months.

“She would be immediately up to speed and fill the seat admirably,” board member Terry Finnegan said. “She is the best person for the job.”

The idea of working with the new administration and the current board led Fisher to apply for the appointment.

“I find great value in differing perspectives and understand how working through those differences, in collaboration toward common goals, ultimately benefits our students,” she said.

Board members met behind closed doors on June 18 to assess the applicants who expressed interest in replacing Conway, who resigned last month for a variety of professional and personal reasons.

Half of the candidates had board experience of some kind, school board president Dietra Millard said. While they cannot take action in closed session, they can reach consensus.

The board had 45 days to make an appointment but neither District 200 nor state law specifies a selection or appointment process.

When he stepped down, Conway suggested the board should select John Allen as his replacement. Allen was first elected to the board in 2007 and in April was defeated for re-election, coming in fourth in a six-person field. Efforts to contact Allen by phone and e-mail have been unsuccessful.

Deborah Kadin June 27, 2011 at 02:42 PM
In an e-mail, Millard said the board did not ask candidates to provide information about race, sex and ethnicity, and there were several among the 10 that were not known by any member of the current board. Of those candidates known to the Board, only one - John Allen - was a minority. In an e-mail, Allen expressed disappointment at not being selected. He said he was not surprised but it was a let-down that they did not respect Conway's request. "The Board chose to move diversity in the wrong direction. "I've been active in ensuring that all people are considered as the institution conducts itself and they had an opportunity to give disenfranchised citizens a chance to be represented." That said, "I have a great deal of respect for Valerie Fisher and if they weren't going to give blacks, Asians, Hispanics, the LGBT community, or special education parents a voice on the board, at least they chose someone who is wise and has a deep love for the school."

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